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Worf Had the Flu

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"It was an opponent Nanoha wouldn't have had any problem protecting her allies from or defeating if she had been her usual self. But the strain of overexerting herself made Nanoha less capable, and her body slowed down at a crucial moment. The result... was this."

A type of fandom-based Author's Saving Throw, this is the specific rationalization that a character suffering from The Worf Effect or a Curb-Stomp Battle did so only because something (artificially) undermined their performance. The insinuation, of course, is that it probably wouldn't have happened this way under "normal" circumstances.


This is often used within fandom, and can be a satisfying answer for fans bothered by the outcome of the battle or use of the trope itself. As the 'flu' is generally pulled from something within the story, explicit or otherwise, it does not necessarily require a blatant Retcon or Canon Discontinuity — the event itself is still treated as canonical. Note, however, the new reason may not officially be, except as a passing Ascended Fanon by some writers.

Whether or not a later matchup is provided becomes irrelevant. If enough ire is raised from using the Worf Effect, a later matchup may be specifically avoided to dodge any mention of it at all. On the other extreme, the response to the trope may be too loaded with Take That! overtones not to come off as petty. In contrast, a well-written Evasive Fight-Thread Episode often includes 'flu' logic in an effort to quell any complaints about the match-up. Essentially the "Power Seep" part of Power Creep, Power Seep.


This Flu is also often exploited by a nasty Big Bad Wannabe in order to have a shot to kill those powerful people, through luck mostly. Of course, defeating those who had flu doesn't mean you are that trope. With planning and exploiting this 'Flu', one can avoid being labeled of that trope.

A type of Drama-Preserving Handicap. Compare Actually a Doombot. Contrast Handicapped Badass, when they managed to win despite their flu. Compare with I Am Not Left-Handed when the flu is self-imposed. Compare Working Through the Cold when the character chooses to soldier on despite the handicap.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Despite being a captain, Ukitake was unable to save Kaien because he had a coughing fit in the middle of the fight. He was forced to order Rukia to kill Kaien to save everyone's lives, as he was incapable of fighting any further.
    • During the Arrancar Arc, Ichigo's spiritual power constantly fluctuates. At his best, he can defeat powerful Espada but at his worst, he can't even fight a sealed Yammy. The problem centres on his fear of his inner hollow and his inability to control it. He only masters this fear and therefore his resolve at the very end of the arc. He is also being sabotaged by his own power; his "Shinigami" power is really his Quincy power which is secretly suppressing as much of his real Shinigami power as possible, making it that much harder for Ichigo to understand and master his abilities.
    • Captain and Lieutenant-class Shinigami wear a Power Limiter in the living world, which can tamp them down to 20% of their normal power. Anime filler will often take advantage of this fact to make Shinigami lose fights they should win. In two arcs, the filler has also contrived a reason to render Ichigo's power so unreliable as to make him more of a liability than a use. In the Bount Arc, he was even forced to relearn Bankai, while the Gotei Invasion arc kept him at a fluctuating, diminishing power level due to it being set at a time where the canon had removed his power completely.
    • If a Bankai ever breaks, it's impossible to repair the Bankai back to its original form. It can only function at a reduced level ever after. Renji's Bankai was broken by Byakuya and Ikkaku's was broken by Edorad. It's also revealed that a refusal to properly embrace and become one with a Zanpakutou results in its power being held back from the Shinigami. Ikkaku is well-known for fighting his power instead of embracing it, but Renji's zanpakutou also doesn't trust him enough to share its full power willingly.
    • Nnoitra Gilga benefits from this three times (though twice he set it up). In the backstory, he was only able to injure Nel because he attacked her friends first and then used an illusion to set her up for a cheap shot. Against Ichigo, he ambushed him after he won a fight against Grimmjow and was exhausted, and he only won his fight against Nel because her reiatsu was unstable because of the injury he dealt her a while back and she was unable to land the finishing blow.
    • When Zaraki defeats Gremmy, he's left in a very badly injured state and coughing up blood. He is immediately ambushed by four female Sternritters, who reason the best chance anyone stands of defeating Zaraki is to take him down when he's in such a bad state. They succeed.
  • Berserk:
    • When Guts first encountered the holy iron chain knights, he was heavily injured and exhausted from his fight with Rosine. As such, he was weak enough for them to capture. When he encounters them again, some of them remark that his combat performance was leagues above the first time.
    • Casca actually loses and needs rescuing from her first battle with Adon Corbowitz. While tending to her Guts notes blood between her thighs and comments to himself how it must be hard for a woman mercenary. The next time she and Adon meet, the beatdown goes the other way.
      • It's also a Chekhov's Gun, as she's seen being 'out of it' earlier. Furthermore, as in case the viewer doesn't get it, Adon says, when being beat down: "YOU HAD PMS!?"
  • One Piece: Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hats are initially unable to defeat the CP9, and while they are not yet using the techniques they use to defeat their opponents in later battles, Nami suggests that they weren't fighting at their full potential because they were still unsure whether Robin had betrayed them. Once they realize that she did what she did for their sake, they are able to fight to their full power to rescue her (Strangely enough, Sanji knows Robin's reasons and still is unable to defeat Blueno, but later defeats the far more powerful Jyabura). Luffy also admits he wasn't at his fullest because he wasn't full and just fought Wanze, who was a relatively weak enemy but managed to thrash Sanji a fair amount before he started using knives.
    • Earlier in the manga, Sanji was wounded by Pearl and nearly lost to Gin.
    • In the Skypiea arc, Luffy, Zoro and Sanji are unable to fight well against Wiper because they have not adapted to Skypiea's higher elevation and thinner atmosphere. Luffy manages to get over this by the time he fights the White Berets, and throughout the rest of the arc, there is no suggestion that the characters are fighting at anything less than their full potential.
    • The Straw Hats exhaust themselves fighting the first Pacifista on the Sabaody Archipelago, making them easy pickings for Sentoumaru, Kizaru, Kuma and another Pacifista.
    • Kuma seems to be a fan of this trope, considering that he's beaten the Strawhats twice, and both times he confronted them right after they'd fought a major, exhausting battle.
    • Luffy's somewhat underwhelming (Haki aside) showings during the Kuja and Marineford battles are at least partially attributed to having to deal with the Kizaru/Kuma/Sentoumaru/Pacifista gangstomp the day before in the previous case and nearly dying against Magellan and being kept running on sheer willpower and hormone doping in the latter case. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the fact that the major players are all Warlord of the Sea class, at least, but the Luffy at Marineford didn't seem to be operating at the same caliber as he did against the likes of Rob Lucci and Gecko Moria, and actually had to be doped again near the end of the battle.
    • This was the primary reason Franky was struggling against Fukurou, despite having previously overpowered Blueno; As he was lacking in Cola, his attacks were decreased in effectiveness and power. Once he got his cola back...
    • Seriously, many of Zoro's battles had him at some sort of disadvantage or not at his full potential. In the battle with Cabaji, he was already injured from Buggy's earlier attack. When fighting Hachi, he was still recovering from his wounds from his fight with Mihawk and had a fever on top of that. He had difficulty with Mr 1 since Mr 1's body can become steel, something Zoro couldn't cut at the time. During the Davy Jones game, he wasn't able to use his swords due to the rules. He only had two swords with him during the fight against Ryuuma. And against Oars, he was still getting used to his new sword Shuusui. With Kuma, he had taken damage from Ryuuma and Oars over the night. With the Flying Fish Riders and with the Pacifista, he was hampered down from his injuries from Thriller Bark, along with Luffy's pain that was transferred to him.
      • This trope didn't stop Zoro during the Fishman Island Arc. His opponent was Hody Jones, a Great White Shark fishman. For those who didn't know, fishmen become ten times stronger while underwater, but the same can't be said for humans. However, despite needing to take a breath before drowning, Zoro effortlessly defeated Hody with only a single slash while underwater.
      • Violently defied during his fight with Cabaji, who was targeting his earlier wound from Buggy. Zoro, mindful of his goal to be the best swordsman alive, proceeded to cut open the wounds, making them much worse. Cabaji believed that to be giving him an out, as Zoro could use the injury as an excuse for a loss. Zoro refutes that, saying that if he lost to someone like Cabaji with such a "minor" injury, he may as well give up on his dream altogether. He then hands Cabaji his ass.
    • Whitebeard, the man considered the equal to Roger at his peak, went into the Marineford war suffering heavily from illness, old age and injury. While his raw power and toughness still impressed everyone, many people noted he was nowhere near the top of his game, causing him to tank attacks that he would have otherwise either blocked or evaded. Taking all those attacks did eventually kill him.
      • Though considering how much damage his rampage caused, it's made people wonder how powerful he was when he was in his prime - and how powerful Roger was when he was still alive.
    • This was the case with Trafalgar Law. Before the Time Skip he was too weak to stand up to Vergo, and was absolutely terrified of him. After it, it seems the situation has not changed, with Vergo curb-stomping him twice. However, this was mainly due to having Law's heart. Once Smoker got Law his heart back, Law proceeded to curb-stomp Vergo in his most powerful form with one slash, cutting apart not only Vergo but also the entire laboratory they were fighting in as well.
      • Happens to Law again in the Dressrosa arc. By the time he fights Donquixote Doflamingo one-on-one, he had to fight both Doflamingo and Admiral Fujitora at the same time, then protect Caesar and the Straw Hats from Doflamingo. He was undoubtedly exhausted by that point, and it doesn't help that his devil fruit abilities are explicitly stated to rely on his stamina. As an end result, he suffers a very bad Curb-Stomp Battle at Doflamingo's hands.
    • Smoker likewise, had become a Vice-Admiral after the Time Skip, and had fought fairly evenly (in some cases had the upper hand) against Vergo, who's of the same rank. He eventually lost, though that was because he was trying to get Law's heart back instead of outright beating him. Later, he's confronted by a very pissed off, homicidal, nothing-to-lose, Doflamingo - while Smoker was, at best, at half-strength from fighting Vergo. It ends with Doflamingo easily defeating him, and Smoker would've been killed if not for the sudden arrival of Kuzan (the former Admiral Aokiji).
    • In the Wano arc, after Kaido shows up near Luffy and Law while he's heavily drunk, he gets sucker punched by Luffy with multiple finishing moves, not even getting a single hit in. Then it's revealed that Kaido managed to completely No-Sell all of said attacks, is now sober thanks to them, and he promptly one-shots Luffy.
    • In the backstory, Kozuki Oden lost his fight with Kaido because a third party distracted him by pretending to hold his young son hostage.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!: Specially common when the 3-A non-combatant/non-magical girls have to be portraited as "dangerous" to more powerfull characters. Negi is an horrible victim of that when his students Took a Level in Jerkass.
  • Naruto:
    • During the Chunnin exam tournament, Jiraiya notices the chakra-blocking seal that Orochimaru had placed over Naruto's Kyubi-containing belly-button seal, and realizes it prevented Naruto from channeling properly. Once he removed it, Naruto was able to instantly master the water-walking technique he had been struggling with before. And it might also explain Naruto's rather lackluster performance against Kiba — Naruto previously never needed any distractions or significant pauses in a fight to create Shadow Clones. Naruto himself never seemed to notice his own difficulties either.
    • This is the only reason why Orochimaru was able to beat Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Sandaime Hokage. Hiruzen was way past his prime by the time of their fight and even the simple use of the Kage Bushin technique ate away at his lifespan. Orochimaru even said that had this been just ten years before, even with the Edo Tensei Hokages, Hiruzen would have won then.note  But...since Hiruzen was in old age, the best he could do was a tie with a Taking You with Me jutsu against Orochimaru and the Edo Hokages.
    • Tsunade's first appearance has her using then-current Big Bad Orochimaru like a paddleball. The only reason Orochimaru did not bust out far more powerful moves for the fight was because had previously lost the use of his arms (and thus, most of his jutsus). Jiraiya was likewise disabled thanks to a drug Tsunade slipped into one of his drinks earlier on. Tsunade as well suffered some early damage due to her entirely psychological weakness to blood, making her use her trump card on a healing power and, less memorably, as years out of practice. If the Sannin were at their top form during the fight the others there would've been useless and the battle would've dwarfed even the epic rumble that it was and likely not be quite as one-sided.
    • The Sound Four were all capable of holding off multiple ANBU agents in their first appearance, but all lost to genin later on. However, this (and the fact that the Konoha genin caught up to them in the first place) was at least partially because they had exhausted themselves when they ran into two Konoha jonin and had to activate their cursed seals just to get away with Sasuke's body unharmed. Even with this, Sakon and Tayuya still almost won their fights and only lost because of the sand genin's interference.
    • Said jonins were exhausted themselves, because they ran into the Sound Four while en route back to the village, after a mission.
    • Especially true with Kimimaro, who was literally seconds away from killing Gaara and Rock Lee when his illness causes him to die. Given that he was able to defeat the sound four all at once and was able to move with sheer willpower, it is especially evident.
    • One scene in Episode 52 of the Naruto: Shippuden anime (which doesn't appear in the manga) suggests that Naruto and Sakura faired poorly against Sasuke in their first meeting with him after the timeskip because of their wounds from their previous battle (although they do realize that Sasuke has gotten far more powerful). Yamato is also holding back, not wanting to injure Sasuke too much, but just after he decides to get serious, Orochimaru leaves with Sasuke. In the manga, Naruto was still suffering from his Four-Tailed Form's side effects. He was, at best, half power when he finally encountered Sasuke (even Orochimaru commented when they fought again, Naruto wasn't doing nearly as well before). Likewise, Sakura was still suffering from the poisonous wound that she had gotten from the Kyuubi's tail swipe. Only Yamato and Sai were at full strength.
    • Orochimaru has had to been sick or weak at the time for both Uchiha Itachi and Uchiha Sasuke to defeat him. When he faced both, for example, his body was rejecting him both times, and he couldn't kill either of them (needing their bodies for Grand Theft Me). Its even pointed out later that the only reason why Sasuke beat Orochimaru in the first place is because Sandaime Hokage's Shiki Fujin still sealed his arms, thus robbing him of his ninjutsu.
    • Played with in Sasuke's battle with Itachi. Not only is Itachi in terrible shape (basically, using the high level Sharingan techniques means Cast from Hit Points, with the negative that a night at the Inn does NOT fix you right up), he's damn near blind, holding back, and was actually trying to let him win and yet he still utterly dominates Sasuke, who is in top form. Sasuke only survives because Itachi dies at the end. To be fair though Itachi only 'dominated' when Susano'o came into play since Sasuke had no knowledge of said technique, thus no counter unlike having counters to Amaterasu with Oral Rebirth or Tsukuyomi with his Sharingan mastery and rage. Even Itachi complimented Sasuke's power, and if not for Susano'o Kirin would have wiped Itachi off the face of the map.
    • Pain versus Naruto could have been much more one sided with the odds heavily against Naruto had it not been for the fact that Pain was trying to capture Naruto, not kill him. It also didn't help that he'd just finished fighting and leveling a village, and his most powerful body had its powers disabled at the start of the fight.
    • Sasuke's poor performance against Killer Bee is accredited to him not being fully recovered from his fight with Itachi.
    • Danzo only lost to Sasuke since he was unable to use Shisui's eye and was holding back power to fight Tobi, who was the more dangerous opponent.
    • And going back allllll the way, Naruto's crappy abilities with chakra control are implied to be due to the Kyuubi's chakra inside him. Once he started getting his jutsu under control, he was learning jounin level skills (albeit in a wasteful manner — thank the Sage of Six Paths that he's got enough chakra to burn) and a technique that requires a practically impossible level of chakra control.
    • It's almost a necessity in the Naruto universe; the majority of techniques and strategems are actually fairly accurate for how a ninja with quasi-magical powers would be: an attack, preferably a sneak attack, that tends to be somewhere between a One-Hit Kill and ridiculously excessive. The fights would be a lot shorter and the action a lot less interesting if they lasted one panel/minute EVERY single time.
    • Naruto himself suffered this during the War Arc. Against Nagato and Itachi, he was starting to run on empty for his Nine-Tailed Chakra Mode due to using it all night, fighting the Raikage, then creating 13 clones to help on several battlefields. When he attempted to create a clone to find Kabuto, his Chakra Mode disappeared and he was left exhausted. Then during the fight with Tobi, he couldn't use his superior speed and barely used any jutsu's against Tobi's paths due to being so completely exhausted from his previous fights. Its only after getting Kurama's partnership he's able to truly pull a Heroic Second Wind. Even after his Biju Mode runs out, he's completely recharged but he still uses his Chakra Mode conservatively against Tobi so he isn't lured into the same trap he was before.
    • Sakura's apparently been charging her Yin Seal for the past three years.
    • Madara and Hashirama as Edo zombies both lacked some/most of their power due to their summoner being too weak to bring them back properly, which makes it possible for living people to defeat them.
  • Dragon Ball
    • In the very first arc, Goku loses to Yamcha because he's hungry, but Yamcha doesn't finish the fight because Bulma shows up, so both combatants "had the flu". When they fight again on even terms, Goku knocks out Yamcha's tooth and the latter calls the fight off early due to loss of pride.
    • Also happens when Goku loses to King Piccolo's minion Tambourine, but only because Goku was exhausted from fighting in the 22nd Tenka'ichi Budokai. Tambourine is confident he can win again in the rematch, but against a more refreshed Goku, things don't go so well for him.
    • Dragon Ball Z:
      • Goku's heart virus thing while fighting Android 19. This is actually taken to the extent of an Alternate Timeline, where without the aid of Trunks, Goku died from the virus, and well...
      • Gohan is this trope. Goku knows that Gohan has incredible power and wants him to draw it out. However, Gohan isn't a Blood Knight like his pureblooded Saiyan father and is more of a Mama's Boy who is a Friend to All Living Things. This is easy to tell during the Cell Saga finale as Gohan refuses to go all out in his Kamehameha Beam-O-War because the others are fighting Cell from behind and he doesn't want to kill them, too.
      • Part of Goku's poor performance against Kid Buu was because he was no longer used to having a living body. He had grown accustomed to the near endless endurance and power of his dead body.
      • In the Garlic Jr. filler arc, Piccolo was merged with Nail, had his full power evenly matched with Garlic Jr. even in his transformed state, and supercharged with the power of the Makyo Star. However, Piccolo's life is tied to Kami, who is put into danger by the spirits of the former Kami, leaving Gohan to challenge Garlic Jr. himself,
  • Lordgenome of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann wasn't fighting anywhere close to his real potential during his fight with Simon, and he still would have won if he had not underestimated Simon's determination. A thousand years of boredom had dulled his edge considerably, as he proved during the final episode.
    • Even more true considering that according with his backstory revealed in the Parallel Works 8, Lord Genome turns against his own comrades in the name of the Anti-Spiral effectively taking down a LEGION OF SPIRAL WARRIORS all by himself, it's more or less stated that Genome, at the time, have the power to defeat the anti-spirals and end the war if he knew what to do but he was convinced and scarred by the truth of the Spiral Nemesis.
  • Similar to the Super Robot Wars example further down the page, Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force gives this treatment to Signum by way of depriving her of the equipment needed to fight against the Hückebein. Signum goes into her battle with Cypha lacking the countermeasures necessary to neutralize her opponent's Mage Killer abilities, and as a result only manages to hold her own until Cypha gets serious. Double points here because before this, Signum had never been defeated onscreen by any of the other characters.
    • Later on Signum inverts this instead. She did wake up and has gotten more proper equipment, but she has one more handicap: That injury was very life-threatening that she could end up crippled for life. When she instantly issues a rematch with Cypha, you expect that she'd lose out again or at best only manages to get even due to the injury. What happens was that in a single chapter, Signum completely beat the crap out of Cypha to the point she had to retreat.
    • Nanoha's overexerting herself resulted in her getting injured and almost crippled while on a mission in between A's and StrikerS, as Shamal points out in the above quote.
    • The Wolkenritter are less at an advantage over Nanoha and Fate's group because they have sworn not to kill anyone in their quest to save Hayate. Despite managing to fight off Signum until she retreats or outside forces interfere, Fate loses most of her sparring matches against Signum in the period after A's.
  • Prior to his first battle with Mukuro, Hibari from Katekyō Hitman Reborn! literally had been injected with a flu, causing him to get curb-stomped despite being at least Mukuro's equal in fighting prowess.
  • Ash's team of Pokémon have suffered this trope often:
    • In "Friend and Foe Alike", thanks to Team Rocket's schemes, Ash had to arrive at the stadium late and with a completely exhausted team, which is why he loses his tournament match to Ritchie.
      • As Ash's Primary Powerhouse prior to Greninja, Charizard has quite a few instances:
      • "Charizard Chills" has the title Pokémon critically frozen after battle with a Poliwrath. His respect as well as loyalty for his trainer returned after Ash spent all night trying to thaw him out.
      • Later, he also suffers a wing injury during the battle against the Johto gym leader Faulkner, giving him a little bit of trouble against the leader's Pidgeot.
      • Most of the time Charizard loses a battle it's treated this way, examples include the losses against Dusclops (where he was winning until Ash attempted to finish the match using a fighting type move on a ghost type, firmly holding the Idiot Ball) and Blaziken (because Ash had no knowledge of what a Blaziken was).
    • Ash's Grovyle from evolves into Sceptile...into the worst possible moment, when he was heartbroken. Somehow, this causes Sceptile (a powerful Pokémon in its own right) to be unable to use its attacks, rendering it useless for a couple of episodes.
    • Ash's Pikachu gets a taste of this in the very first episode of the Unova saga. An encounter with Zekrom, one of Unova's Legendaries, overloads Pikachu's electricity-storing capability and thus renders it unable to use Electric-type attacks. Ash finds this out the hard way when the 'Chu gets trounced in a battle with a trainer who had, mere minutes earlier, received his first Pokémon.
    • Pikachu Inverts this, however, on one occasion in the Hoenn saga: Applied Phlebotinum caused Pikachu to strike a fever, which also gave him an insane power up, leading up to Ash easily defeating Wattson.
  • In Pokémon Adventures, Petrel claims that he had an easy time defeating Lance, easily one of the most powerful trainers in the world. Turns out that Petrel disguised himself as Yellow, the one person who Lance is afraid of, throwing him off his game.
  • Digimon Savers: In one episode, one of Masaru's punches breaks SaberLeomon's tooth. This wouldn't be out of character for him except that an earlier attempt to punch SaberLeomon had significantly less effect, and prior to the second attempt SaberLeomon had just taken a Gizumon blast, severely weakening him to the point when an Ultimate level Digimon could blow him up.
  • Digimon Adventure: In the episode "The Arrival of Skullgreymon," Tai's Greymon does badly against an evil Greymon under Etemon's control because Tai had previously overfed him as part of an attempt to get him to digivolve to the Ultimate level; as a result, Greymon gets curb-stomped until he finally digivolves into SkullGreymon.
  • In the Tales of Symphonia manga, Lloyd claims that Kratos lost his last fight with him because he was still suffering from the wound he received protecting him from Yuan.
  • In Tokyo Mew Mew, Ichigo gets attacked by Kisshu in Episode 17 while she's sick, resulting in her being unable to defend herself and the Blue Knight appearing for the first time to save her.
  • Muhyo takes a long time to recover his tempering after a sentencing, so when a problem arises soon afterward, he's often unable to intervene immediately. As such, after the group defeats Face-Ripper Sophie, only for Rio to reveal herself as a traitor and attack them, they spend much of the battle retreating, and must brew Muhyo a dangerous potion to help him get his tempering back before they can effectively fight back.
  • In Tegami Bachi, during the infiltration of Honey Waters, Niche drinks some of the poisonous water that is the village's namesake. It doesn't take effect immediately, but when the villagers pin down Lag and Connor, Niche is only able to defeat Lag's attackers before being paralyzed from the poison, resulting in her and Connor being captured and Lag barely escaping.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: One of the reason Kenshin easily fell to Shishio in the first part of their battle was because he had already gone through battles with Aoshi and Sojirou. Both opponents were considered near or at Kenshin's level, so it would be a miracle for him to even be able to stand up to Shishio. This trope extended to Kenshin's allies as well; Saitou, Sano and Aoshi were unable to even hurt Shishio due to their previous injuries.
    • Shishio is actually concerned about whether or not this is fair, but Kenshin reminds him that it counteracts his own handicap, his lack of sweat glands which eventually set him on fire and burn him up from within. Shishio also plays with the trope, since it's implied that the extra heat energy his body produces makes him stronger somehow and he can literally kill someone by touching them long enough. Oddly enough, he doesn't use this as a weapon.
  • Medaka Box: Zenkichi's victory against Munakata is slightly downplayed, as despite his abnormal desire to kill, he was actually actively suppressing it.
  • Soul Eater:
    • Black Star's failure to use Soul Menace against Kid is actually a product of his inability to deal with the worfing that he's noticed he was being subject to. And THOSE losses were caused by him losing confidence in himself for not being able to master Shadow Star.
    • Much earlier on, Maka, Soul, Black Star and Tsubaki were fighting against Free, where the flu was affecting all the fighters. Black Star and Tsubaki were suffering from the aforementioned inability to master Shadow Star, Maka and Soul were dealing with personal issues that went so far as to affect their ability to function properly as Meister and Weapon, and Free was learning first-hand that spending 200 years in a jail cell plays havoc on your ability to properly use your magic. The only reason the heroes won was because their flu wasn't as bad and/or they overcame it, while Free literally lost because his magic backfired on him at the wrong moment. Lucky that he's immortal.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, The Freedom's loss against Shinn and the Impulse was attributed to the fact that Kira was trying to keep the Archangel safe while dealing with Shinn at the same time. Kira also later admits to Athrun that he was also "distracted" because he was "unsure" if he should be fighting ZAFT or not.
  • In the Ninja Scroll movie, Dakuan reveals to Jubei that his victory over the monstrous Tessai wasn't wholly due to Jubei's considerable skill. Tessai had been poisoned when he tried to rape Kagero since Kagero is a Poisonous Person.
  • In The Prince of Tennis:
    • Shinji and Kamio are spectacularly losing a doubles match and their coach/captain Tachibana is shocked as to why they're doing that badly. Jerkass Akutsu shows up and reveals that he knows why: he saw how the taxi that Kamio and Shinji were travelling in was involved in a crash. Tachibana calls off the match and is upset at the two... but not for having to pull them out, but because they didn't tell him that they were injured.
    • Tezuka is a frequent victim of this. Despite easily being one of the best players in the series, his arm injury has impeded his performance in pivotal moments, notably against Atobe and Sanada.
  • In Fairy Tail:
    • This tends to happen anytime an enemy takes advantage of Natsu's motion sickness, which usually results in them kicking his ass or giving him a much harder fight than he'd usually have.
    • During the Battle of Fairy Tail arc, Gray gets taken out by one of Laxus' Elite Mooks because he was forced to take a hit for a local that was getting endangered by their fight. Also, they were forced to battle in a location that gave his opponent an edge.
    • Jellal Fernandez, one of the most powerful characters in the setting, is taken out off-panel by Midnight (admittedly not a small fry himself) during the Nirvana arc. Erza thinks to herself that this is because Jellal hadn't fully recovered from waking up from his coma, and putting a seal that was going to blow himself up alongside Nirvana didn't help matters either. Come the Tartaros arc, Jellal takes down not just Midnight, but Cobra, Racer and Angel by himself in a Curb-Stomp Battle.
    • Later, Ultear manages to defeat the Black Wizard Zeref, who had previously been talked up as one of the most powerful and dangerous wizards of all time, although it's clear from her injuries it wasn't easy in the slightest. Zeref comes back later and explains that, as his magic is meant for causing grievous harm, he can only use it to his full extent when he's willing to kill his opponent, which he then proceeds to prove to her boss and superior in every way Hades, killing him with one move.
    • One reason Igneel was defeated by Acnologia was because the former was technically already dead, the latter had drained his soul a long time ago. Igneel was in a half-dead state when fighting Acnologia, and he still managed to tear off Acnologia's arm before finally going down. It's eventually revealed Acnologia was also suffering under this trope during the battle due to the magic weapon Face, as unknown to nearly anyone else Acnologia's ability is to absorb any and all magic that's used against him, and its activation in the middle of their fight more or less emanciated him. Still didn't stop him from tearing Igneel's torso apart before obliterating his body, however.
  • Sailor Moon
    • During the Makaiju/Doom Tree Filler Arc of Sailor Moon R Usagi watches in horror as her Moon Tiara Action attack powers down in mid-flight, leaving her a crying confused mess when the other Senshi come to the rescue. When a subsequent battle not only has this happen again, but also destroys her original brooch and strands her and Luna in another dimension, Usagi comes to realize the reason of this happening is because her head wasn't in the game: she didn't want to be Sailor Moon anymore and, because of it, it was affecting her powers. It takes a pep-talk with the spirit of Queen Serenity and a new brooch to get her back in the game.
    • In episode 96 of Sailor Moon S Makoto has her pure heart stolen. Then she and Uranus go head-to-head. Many fans saw Uranus' subsequent one-hit-knock-out of Jupiter to be pretty unfair and pointless except to show how SUPER-AWESOME Uranus is. However, the fact that Jupiter did just have her pure heart literally ripped out of her is a good reason that she may not have been up to snuff.
    • While in the first manga arc and the first season of the old anime Sailor Venus is shown to be by far the most formidable fighter of the Sailor Senshi, she doesn't get to show it all too often in the rest of the series. She also suffers from PTSD and is deeply depressed, even if she's so good that in the manga the others don't get a single hint until halfway the Dream Arc (or NEVER in the anime), weakening her performance unless she gets furious, at which point she reminds everyone how terrifying she is.
      • She had been hit by this even before her psychological trauma, back in her solo series, two times: her battle with the four Founde youma happened right at the moment she had decided to retire (in fact she had retired about two minutes earlier, deciding to make a brief comeback only because the youma were already there and eventually staying as a superhero) after considering it for the last few days and thus had forgot to recharge her compact, keeping her from using the Crescent Beam right at a moment where the large number of brainwashed civilians was preventing her from just beating her opponents with her bare hands, and needed Ace to rescue her; and in the battle against Princess Linlin said youma revealed that Ace, Venus' one true love, was a member of the Dark Kingdom and Kunzite's Dragon, the first of the events that caused her PTSD and depression, throwing off her game and needing her to be rescued by Ace for the last time before her powers fully Awakened and she had to kill Ace with her own hands. It would have been three, as one youma caught her right after she had given over a liter of blood, but she powered through that one.
  • A recurring phenomenon in Holyland. When Yuu or whoever's heart is not in it, their fighting ability takes a large drop.
  • Cure Moonlight in Heartcatch Pretty Cure has this leading to why she's taken out of action for 3/4ths of the series. It's kinda hard to fight with your head straight when you see your fairy partner blow up and disintegrate in front of you.
  • In Sword Art Online, Kirito has a kendo sparring match with his sister, a champion-level swordswoman. They fight pretty evenly until she wins. She points out that his muscles had severely atrophied from being in a two-year coma (the match happens roughly a month after he woke up), noting that if he had been at full strength, he would have easily won. Not to mention as well that Kirito was trying to use the sword fighting style he learned in the game during a real world fight, where he didn't have a computer aiding him with the moves, or nigh superhuman speed, strength, and reflexes to pull them off.
  • Magic users in Slayers lose a lot of power when their health is compromised, which is especially problematic for sorceresses during that time of the month. This makes it much easier for Zelgadis to capture Lina during an early story arc.
  • Toki in Fist of the North Star suffers from severe radiation poisoning which saps his strength. Technique-speaking he's the best user of Hokuto Shinken in the series, and Raoh and Kenshiro both know he'd have been the successor of the style if it hadn't been for his illness.
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, Ascot takes out Hikaru and Fuu at the Water Shrine when he summons a fire beast—not only will Hikaru's magic strengthen it, Fuu's will as well because it's wind-based and you do not want to add oxygen to a fire.
  • Cloud in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children struggles against the triplets partially due to being two years out of practice and partially due to being crippled by Geostigma.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V:
    • Yuzu loses her fight with Masumi because she'd been conflicted over the mysterious boy resembling Yuya, causing her to make incredible novice mistakes. She feels horrible over it because it forces a tie-breaker when Gongenzaka forces a draw in his match, leaving You Show and LDS 1-1, a match that, had Reiji not forfeited in a major hurry, would have surely went to LDS. When Yuzu and Masumi have their rematch in the Maiami City Tournament, Yuzu gives Masumi a great fight and comes up on top.
    • Gongenzaka's tag-duel with Sawatari against Tyler Sisters in Xyz dimension was not beneficial for him because of two reasons: (1) His deck heavily relies on absense of trap and spell cards in graveyard (while Sawatari's deck has those) and (2) The graveyard for each team was shared, leading to their defeat off-screen. Of course, Yuya lampshaded this in the episode. Also Sawatari would be crippled if he tried to accommodate Gongenzaka due to how spell-heavy his Abyss Actors were.
  • A Certain Magical Index: During the Agitate Halation arc, Touma Kamijou fights Motoharu Tsuchimikado and nearly effortlessly beats him into the ground. Touma immediately realizes something is wrong, since Motoharu knows advanced martial arts and once effortlessly beat him into the ground during the Angel Fall arc. Motoharu was utterly exhausted since he had been fighting other people all day and had scaled a tall building using no equipment except grips on his hands, and had gotten mentally unbalanced after hearing a false report that his little sister Maika had just been murdered.
  • This happens to Kanna twice in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid:
    • Her attempt at killing Kobayashi failed miserably, and hilariously, thanks to her lack of power. When she regained it, she shows that she could have killed her easily if she were fresh.
    • Chapter 16 in Kanna's Daily Life has her in this situation, with her taking part in a PE class despite not getting any sleep the previous night, not having any breakfast, and not being able to recharge her mana due to her not wanting to be late for school.
    • Ilulu also mentions that she still hadn't healed from the wounds Tohru gave her during her introduction following her fight against Azad.
  • In Mazinger Z: Infinity, Tetsuya Tsurugi and the Great Mazinger end up captured by Dr. Hell due to the fact that Tetsuya was fighting in a populated city, thus his options were severely limited.
  • In Porco Rosso's first fight against Curtis, the engine of his plane is badly in need of an overhaul, and he's primarily focused on nursing the engine through one last flight to his mechanic so he can get it repaired. As a result, when Curtis ambushes him, he quickly loses and nearly dies. In the rematch, which takes place after Porco's plane has been repaired and neither side has the element of surprise, the two are almost perfectly evenly matched.

    Comic Books 
  • This usually happens on Superman’s part part whenever he fights Batman. For example, In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Superman was not only weakened by his age, as indicated early on in the story, plus being at ground zero of a nuke so powerful it caused a nuclear winter by itself just a few days before and said nuclear winter limiting the amount of sun rays he could receive, but he was also holding back because Batman is his friend. This even gets confirmed in the sequel comics, where it’s revealed that Superman was indeed holding back all along and when Batman realizes this, he has a most appropriate reaction.
  • In Empowered, Ninjette eventually gets into a Badass in Distress situation after being ambushed by a gang of rival ninjas and has to be rescued by Emp, a reversal of how events normally go. However, it is implied she only lost the battle because the initial ambush involved them shooting her with a dart containing sedative drugs and they used a special technique that made them able to ignore pain, allowing them to keep fighting through injuries that would incapacitate a normal human. Despite this, Ninjette still managed to kill and critically injure several of them before being overwhelmed.
  • In the big DC vs Marvel crossover, one fight that attracted particular opprobrium from fans was Lobo—a character who can go toe-to-toe with Superman and at the time could regenerate from a single drop of blood—losing to Wolverine (who at the time didn't even have his adamantium skeleton, though his healing factor was significantly boosted as a result). This was explicitly down to Popularity Power—the results were voted on by fans—but the match-up was so uneven the writers had to have Wolverine's victory take place off-panel. A little while later Lobo mentioned that he'd actually been bribed by "some bald guy" (Professor X? Lex Luthor?) to take a dive in the fight.
  • One of the more famous events in the history of the X-Men is the battle for leadership of the team between Cyclops and Storm - who at the time had no powers. Storm won by stealing Cyclops' visor. Without the control of the visor, any attempt to continue fighting would've run the risk of killing Storm (or any of the audience), so he gave up. Several years later, Cyclops' ex-wife Madelyne Pryor announced that she'd used her psychic powers to make Cyclops lose. This is a relatively easy Retcon since Cyclops spent much of the fight distracted by a major argument he and Madelyne had just been having, so to say he didn't exactly have his mind on the battle was very easy to change into a result of Madelyne's direct influence.
  • Played in advance in the Superman vs Predator mini-series. Under normal circumstances the Predators would have posed no threat whatsoever - so the story had Superman catch alien flu just as he arrived in the jungle where they had landed.
    • A better explanation happened in Superman vs Aliens. The battle took place on a planet circling a red star, and since Superman's might mostly comes from the radiation of a yellow star...
    • And when Superman fought Muhammad Ali, the aliens behind the Let's You and Him Fight had made sure it was under red star radiation.
  • Several defeats and cases of Badass Decay of villains who were revealed to be members of The Intelligencia in Fall of The Hulks were explained to be staged for heroes as distractions from their true schemes.
  • Spider-Man
    • Early in his superhero career, Peter is actually beaten and unmasked by Doctor Octopus in front of his friends and family. However, Peter's powers were on the fritz at the time—he had lost his spider-sense and had his strength reduced to that of a normal teenager—and so no one believed that he was actually Spider-Man, but was just dressing up as Spidey in order to distract Doc Ock. Much later, when Peter revealed his secret identity to the world during the events of Civil War, Doc Ock went ballistic because he had known this information for years and never realized it was the truth.
    • A borderline case occurs with the death of Gwen Stacy, as Spider-Man was suffering from an unspecified illness at the time. This tends to be omitted in almost all retellings of the story, however; given that Gwen's neck snapped due to the abrupt stop from Spidey's webbing, it's questionable whether the illness was a factor at all in her death.
    • Spider-Man's sense of responsibility compels him to fight the villain of the month while impaired countless times, he's done it while sick, (that one in particular happens a lot due to Peter's tendency to swing around New York in Spandex in WINTER) with a sprained arm, while he's lost his powers for the 20th time... Basically, Spidey falls under this trope All. The. Time.
  • In the very first crossover between Superman and Spider-Man, Spidey initially holds his own because Lex Luthor and Doc Ock had unknowingly (to him) sprayed him with a blast of Red Sun Radiation. Superman is about to use a full powered punch when he realises that the impact would subject Spider-Man to the Chunky Salsa Rule and stops it short, the sheer blast of the punch knocking Spider-Man through several buildings (through their windows.) Spidey gets angry and charges Superman, only to have the Red Sun Radiation wear off just as he lands his first blow. As he puts it a couple of panels later:
    Spiderman: Oboy. Oboy. I think I just broke my hands...
    • In the Spiritual Successor to this team-up, Batman vs. The Hulk, this trope is only enforced through Fridge Logic, as Batman 'wins' their first encounter through judicious use of his utility belt's knockout gas capsules. His ploy when the Hulk simply holds his breath is to kick him in the solar plexus, only working (as the narrative captions would have it) because the Hulk is so surprised at the fact of the blow rather then any physical pain and is forced to inhale the gas. Notably, when Batman tries this trick again, it fails, as the Hulk just waves the gas away with his hands.
  • Similarly, The Flash, when in the Marvel Universe during the JLA/Avengers crossover, was unable to run as fast as he usually does (and, eventually, loses his Superspeed altogether) because 616 lacks the Speed Force. Otherwise he'd probably knock every Avenger not named Thor unconscious about .5 seconds into the required "Crossover Fight".
  • "It was just a Doombot." Really!.
  • Batman: In Knightfall, Batman begins with an unspecified illness and the plotline is based around how he completely wears himself out by trying to capture all the inmates the Genius Bruiser Bane has released from Arkham, positioning himself for the Curb-Stomp Battle Bats will eventually receive. At least one earlier issue brought up that Bruce hadn't truly recovered from what happened in Batman: The Cult. A number of other problems had built up over time: his inability to capture Black Mask, beating beaten half to death by the spike-wielding Metalhead, his headbutting argument with Sarah Essen-Gordon, The Death of Superman: essentially a superhero Mid Life Crisis. Bane just picked the right time to run Batsy ragged.
  • Doctor Strange lost to Hulk during World War Hulk because he was channeling the powers of a demon that was too powerful for him to properly control, and because the Hulk tricked him and broke his hands to prevent him from properly casting spells.
    • When Doctor Strange helped found the original Defenders, his immune system apparently took a vacation. The writers admitted to brainstorming "how do we keep Doc from wrapping up the plot in one frame" almost every issue. Lampshaded when Doc took a break from the Defenders to figure out why he was having so much trouble with his spells.
    • Also in World War Hulk, Hulk defeated Black Bolt. Next year, Secret Invasion revealed he was actually a Skrull impostor. Possible subversion, as apparently Skrulls impostors were as powerful as the originals.
  • Similar to the eternal Doombot excuse, Prometheus explained his embarrassing performances since his first, when he took on the entire Justice League, by explaining that in the intervening time someone had stolen his gear and impersonated him.
  • Retroactively done to every single Superman vs. The Flash race. Superman tries to convince Barry Allen not to return to the speed force and states that he's been able to keep up if not win in all their races. Barry simply tells him "Those were for charity, Clark," and leaves him in the dust instantly. Fastest man alive indeed. This is an odd case; Superman really was about as fast as Barry back when those issues were actually written, but Superman was powered down substantially in 1986. Even if a lot of that power has returned he is not back to Silver Age power levels, so when those Silver Age stories became canon again, this explanation became necessary.
  • Thor is said to only use about a fifth of his full strength when fighting humans, even insanely strong ones like the Hulk, out of fear of accidentally killing them. One of the few exceptions (he specifically noted he wasn't holding back) was when he fought Iron Man after Civil War, and even after Iron Man's numerous upgrades in the past few years Tony didn't last thirty seconds. He didn't kill him or severely hurt him, though. He just turned his suit of armor into scrap metal parts, while verbally abusing him and calling him out on his recent misdeeds.
  • When Supergirl first returned in 2004, she was shown outperforming Superman to the point where it was speculated that she might actually be more powerful. It turned out, this was meant to show that Superman had been holding himself back all these years out of fear of causing death or destruction (which Supergirl in fact does in the early issues because she doesn't know her own strength.)
    • So when the yellow-clad Weapons Master does fight the flu-ish Superman, this ironically makes Big Blue that much more dangerous. As he tries to explain to the bad people, he doesn't know if he can stop his punches from taking off heads.
    • In one Bronze Age story, Superman starts having Does Not Know His Own Strength moments, and fears his powers are growing beyond his ability to control. In fact, the reverse is true: the Parasite is slowly draining his powers, but he made a point of first draining Supey's sense of self-control that normally keeps them in check. Since he was no longer pulling his punches, they seemed more powerful even though his baseline strength was actually dropping. By the time he figured it out, the Parasite had already drained a good chunk of his energy.
  • Preacher; the flashback history of the hero's dad. All sorts of horrific things end up happening to Daddy simply because his army buddy was too damned stupid to go get the flu treated.
  • When Erik Larsen subjected the Incredible Hulk to The Worf Effect at the hands of the new, improved Doctor Octopus, Peter David, who had been writing Hulk comics at that point, wrote him beating Octopus with two fingers, saying that last time he simply "had a bad day".
  • An issue of New Avengers had Wrecker narrating a fight between the titular team and The Hood's crime syndicate, explaining that he wouldn't have lost to Luke Cage, who is significantly weaker, if Doctor Strange hadn't confused him with his magic.
  • Hulk was on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle at the hands of Zeus. That wasn't because of this; rather, that battle was the flu to set up for the next story arc, which required the Hulk to be significantly weaker than his powerlevel at the time normally allowed.
  • In Wolverine Origins, Dog only attacks James (the future Wolverine) after James exhausted himself cage-fighting during the previous night. Dog had also slipped one of James' opponents a set of brass knuckles to make sure James would be injured even worse. And James still nearly kills Dog after Dog makes him remember that Dog was the one who fired the shot that killed James' father.
  • Rachel Grey aka Marvel Girl of the X-Men was the host of the Phoenix Force for a long while. Her relatively weaker power compared to her mother's stint as the Phoenix's host was due to Rachel actively suppressing the Phoenix's power. She mentioned at one point that she only allowed the Phoenix to use at most one percent of its power.
  • Doomsday has had this trope most every time after Dan Jurgens stopped writing him. His first appearance had him take out the ENTIRE Justice League of the time singlehandedly and fight Superman to a standstill to the death of both of them. He would later nearly kill Darkseid in another match and wipe the floor with Grant Morrison's Justice League. After his death and resurrection post-Our Worlds at War, his flu is that he gains intelligence and as a result becomes so scared shitless of dying again that he becomes unable to fight with reckless abandon and even later learns compassion, both resulting in Doomsday becoming much weaker and getting beaten by opponents that otherwise wouldn't be able to scratch him.
  • A sort of double example for The Spectre. His level of power means that any time he gets involved in a big event, he could kill the villain instantly. Given that this would make for dull stories, he tends to lose encounters with big villains. The writers do usually give some sort of in-universe reason for it. In Blackest Night he couldn't smite Nekron, because he didn't have a soul at all.
  • Red Sonja lost a fight to Dark Annisia, then Annisia revealed Sonja had caught a deadly plague. It is later revealed that it is not a plague at all, but a poison, and Sonja had been fed some during the party the night before the fight.
  • Averted in Avengers Arena. In response to the massive outcry over X-23 grabbing the Idiot Ball by attacking Apex (who was controlling a freaking Sentinel) head-on and predictably getting Curb-Stomped, despite her focus issue playing up her Awesomeness by Analysis, Dennis Hopeless attempted to invoke this trope in the letters column of the very next issue by claiming Laura had to act fast and didn't have time for a better strategy. The readers, however, weren't fooled, and it just made Laura come across as an even bigger idiot.
  • Batwoman's first encounter with Wolf Spider goes largely as expected: she, the more experienced fighter, quickly gets the upper hand and starts pummeling the crap out of him. However, he pretends to surrender and tosses a pair of hallucinogenic darts into her face. As she starts tripping out, Wolf Spider uses the opportunity to crack her across the jaw and kick her out a window into a dumpster. Needless to say, after Batwoman recovers she's rather pissed at being beaten by such cheap tactics.
  • In Batman and Robin Eternal, Cassandra Cain makes short work of Dick Grayson. However, he was ambushed, already injured, and underestimated her skills. She does noticeably less well later against Jason Todd, who had fewer disadvantages. To complicate things, Dick says afterward that Cass was just testing them and wasn't fighting to her full abilities since doing so would've killed them. (It should be noted that Cassandra was, pre-New 52, often agreed to be the best (non-superhuman) martial artist in the world, with Lady Shiva, her mother, being her only real competitor).
  • Red Sonja defeats rumored-undefeatable opponents on a weekly basis. The defeated use this excuse.
    Sonja: Every spoor of a mud village has an unbeatable local swordsman. They often say they "slipped" after I thrash them.
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four: Thanos fights Thor, and states that if the fight had been when Thor's pantheon had human followers, Thor would have won. Since he doesn't, Thanos wins.
  • The comic continuation of Charmed (1998) does this to the final battle between Piper/Phoebe/Paige and Billie/Christy in the show, by explaining that Prue had been reincarnated and was unwillingly leeching off the Power of Three, meaning the Charmed Ones were not at full power.

    Fan Works 
  • Downplayed in Amazing Fantasy. Iuzku struggles in his fight against Yaoyorozu during the Heroes vs. Villains exercise as he was already injured and winded after his fierce brawl with Bakugou. His attention was also occupied with getting to the bomb hidden among her decoys and the increasing pressure of him running down the clock. Even then, he notes that he could probably defeat her if he went all-out, but he decides against that as he wouldn't be able to properly regulate his Super Strength to avoid seriously hurting her.
  • In The Ninth Sekirei Pillar, Naruto fought against Mutsu three times. The first two, he was either not taking Mutsu seriously or was completely exhausted. The third fight, Naruto was fully rested and pissed, resulting in Mutsu being on the wrong end of a Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • In Fractured, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands crossover, the JVLN Alliance (Cerberus combined with pro-human forces from another galaxy) actively exploits this trope by setting up "Worf" (RNS Revenant, a huge Star Dreadnaught) with the "flu." Specifically, by analyzing information about other ships like it, they know exactly how to Attack Its Weak Point after ensuring it is Point Defenseless due to being unable to fire on friendly IFFs stolen through old-fashioned spycraft. Further, a fake attack caused any other defensive weapons to initially fire in the wrong direction. Finally, the ship is experiencing a Phlebotinum Breakdown (out of fuel) anyway, so is already weakened.
  • Second Wind: Luffy and Zoro, having done Mental Time Travel, are capable of using Haki and are already stronger than most New World Captains. The thing is, they'd be even stronger than that if they weren't in their younger, untrained bodies. While they still know how to do their techniques, their bodies are too weak to handle the full scope of their improved fighting styles. It's explicitly stated that his is the reason why Zoro, despite putting up a much better fight than in canon, still lost to Mihawk at the Baratie.
  • In The Pride Sakura manages to defeat Tsunade because while the former isn't yet twenty, the latter is sixty and her ultimate technique has aged her closer to eighty. Once Tsunade is rejuvenated to her prime again, making her stronger than ever since she's still an Old Soldier, Sakura compares their spars to when she first started training under Tsunade.
  • In Reaching for a Dream Naruto gets ambushed by Orochimaru (who not only has a powerful new body but has also learned Sage Mode) then shortly afterwards Itachi and Kisame come to collect the Kyuubi. While Orochimaru does flee when he realizes they've arrived and Naruto does manage to kill Kisame, Itachi's still alive (though injured) and Naruto's completely out of juice. He's left with no other option than to limp away and hope that either Itachi collapses before he does or help arrives.
  • According to Dumbledore in Breath of the Inferno, the only reason Harry beat Voldemort was because the latter was severely weakened, utterly deranged, and acting uncharacteristically stupid. Even so, Voldemort proves capable of casting a dozen spells with a single wave of his wand and Harry only barely wins.
  • In The God of Destruction Comes to Remnant, Velvet Scarlatina and Coco Adel get beaten up by thugs and nearly raped until they get rescued. Several chapters later, the thugs' leader, Cobalt Yashi, explains that he had been stalking the two for a while and had a telepath underling of his secretly mess with their minds for weeks to dull their reflexes, make them prone to mistakes, etc until they would be weak enough to capture.
  • When Lelouch tries to use his victory over Cornelia during the Black Rebellion as why he can defeat her in Saitama in Code Geass: Redo of the Rebellion, C.C. corrects him that he beat Cornelia while she was in the middle of a psychological breakdown, not at her prime.
  • Spike reflects in Hurt Me that he only beat two Slayers by severely weakening both first. The Slayer he fought during the Boxer Rebellion he'd killed after posing as a soldier and sending troops after her for several days. Against Nikki Wood, he left her sleep deprived by scaring her infant son several times each night for a few days then fought her in a subway car where she couldn't use her weapons effectively. He's fully aware that if he hadn't, he would have been staked in seconds by either one.
  • Lampshaded by Ranma in Happenstance Gone Right that the first time he and Shampoo fought she'd been tired, had no idea how he fought, and severely underestimated him while Ranma was rested, had watched her fights, and knew she was a strong fighter. Now that they're sparring after knowing each other for some time, she'll do much better.
  • Deliberately averted in Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto when Ino challenges Sakura to a fight. Sakura gives Ino a soldier pill to make sure she's at 100% so she doesn't have an excuse when she loses.
    Sakura: You're going to be fresh as a daisy when I plant you in the ground.
    • Much earlier, Naruto won handily against Zabuza because the latter got too caught up in the fight to remember the gravity seals on his sword weighing him down.
  • In Fate/Parallel Fantasia, several characters get more than one Servant. The problem is that since a Master has to supply Servants with energy, the Servants are not as strong as they would normally be since the energy is divided.
  • A particularly literal example of this occurs in Spider-X when Peter misses attending the carnival where most of the X-Men were temporarily 'enslaved' by Mesmero because he had the flu and Rogue stayed behind to keep an eye on him, thus ensuring that Peter wouldn't get a spider-sense warning of the danger Mesmero posed and prevent the team falling victim to the hypnotist's efforts.
  • In Avengers of the Ring, the energy drain caused by the portal that sent them to Middle-Earth is the only reason Thor and the Hulk didn’t just tear through their early opposition such as the troll and the Uruk-Hai army and cut a path to Mount Doom single-handedly, as they needed time to regain their lost energy; immediately after arriving in Middle-Earth, the vortex had drained so much power that Banner only retained a degree of Hulk’s enhanced healing, and Thor’s only obvious abilities were greater-than-average strength and the ability to summon Mjolnir back to him after he threw it.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines features a few examples of this:
    • In Chapter 18, two of Misty's Pokémon were defeated by a wild Golduck. This happened because she was so worried about the possibility of Iris getting together with Ash that her head wasn't in the battle. In the same chapter, Ash loses a round against Paul because he's too angry to be focused, because Paul blasted Ash's Primeape into the sky, possibly with fatal consequences.
    • In Chapter 21, the Team Rocket trio is able to capture a criminal named Felgrand since all of his Pokémon had just been defeated by Ash.
    • In the Whitney Interlude, one night owl of a trainer tries to invoke this with Whitney by challenging her at four in the morning, thinking she'll be too tired to battle him at full capacity. It doesn't work. If anything, it backfired by making Whitney angrier and more motivated to beat him.
    • Giselle in the Pokémon Tech Interlude lost rather easily to Ash, who despite being technically a rookie at the time, has knowledge about her from the previous timeline.
    • In his own gaiden, Ash's Charmander constantly lost his battles under Damian due to a mix of overworking himself and Damian not bothering to properly feed and heal him.
  • Lampshaded in Why No One Messes With Celestia where the titular character notes that a lot of ponies doubted her power after she was defeated by Queen Chrysalis. According to the alicorn herself, she had to choose between losing the fight and hoping things would work out or winning but incinerating the entire castle and it's inhabitants. Her true power fires a beam of plasma that burns as hot as the sun's core but also requires almost a solid minute of preparation to cast all the spells to protect her surroundings and anyone who isn't her target.
  • Jaune does fairly well against Neo in In the Kingdom's Service despite her being overwhelmingly the superior fighter because the car she was standing on a moment ago exploded, leaving her injured, deaf, and physically unbalanced.
  • In Faded Blue, Lapis is unable to defeat Garnet when confronted at the fountain because the most readily available body of liquid consists of Rose's healing tears, which instantly heal whatever damage she deals. Lapis herself quickly realizes this and decides to retreat, but Garnet manages to grab and poof her when she tries to fly Steven and Blue Pearl to safety as well.
  • Downplayed in The War Is Far from Over Now. Vision does remarkably well against Ultron and the Chitauri but he still realizes he's nowhere near as effective as he could be because, being only an hour old, Vision barely understands what his powers are, let alone how to use them.
  • Fate/Harem Antics:
    • Rider gets stabbed with Lancer's Gae Bolg. Since Gae Bolg inflicts wounds that do not heal naturally, the wound hinders her and makes her struggle in her next few fights. It isn't until she has sex with Shirou that she gains enough mana to heal the wound.
    • Like in canon, Saber's poor energy supply from Shirou leaves her with poor stamina and unable to use Mana Burst very often, until she replenishes her mana by having sex with Shirou.
  • Ash's Duskull Spectre in Challenger is eventually revealed to be even older than Agatha but because it never bonded with a human trainer, most of it's power was still locked away in the Distortion World. After a single battle against Agatha's Mega Gengar, Spectre evolves into Dusclops and Agatha comments that once it has access to it's full power, Spectre will be a match for any of her pokemon.
  • Goku in Legend Of The Monkey God is considerably stronger than canon, including knowing how to fly and use ki attacks before meeting Bulma. However, when the Pilaf gang steal the dragon balls, they also steal almost all of Goku's and Bulma's supplies. By the time Goku and Bulma are captured in Pilaf's castle, Goku's only had a single sandwich to eat in the last day and a half, leaving him too weak to do anything after blasting a hole in their cell. As a result, Bulma has to save the day by stealing Pilaf's wish.
  • In the Ranma ½ fanfic Imperial Servant the titular pressure point technique is an ancient Amazon punishment for martial artists guilty of rape that has the double effect of making a male unable to have an erection and severely reducing their physical abilities. As Ranma has been under its effects since he was twelve (though not because of Genma), every defeat he suffered since then retroactively falls under this.

    Films — Animated 
  • Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay: Eobard Thawne/Professor Zoom is normally a villain with speed rivaling The Flash. Here, he only uses his speed sparingly, and when he does, he's barely fast enough to keep up with a car, allowing Badass Normal characters like Deadshot to fight him, which Deadshot comments on. Near the end, it is revealed that this is the same Eobard who got shot in the head by Thomas Wayne/Batman in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. He still has the gruesome hole in his head, and he is devoting most of his power and concentration to keeping himself alive. Eventually, Deadshot manages to shoot him several times in the torso, which makes him lose his concentration and die.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Trek
    • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the rather puny-looking Reliant sneak attacks the Enterprise and leaves the ship hobbling along for the rest of the movie, thus prolonging a confrontation that, under normal circumstances, would've resulted in the Enterprise mopping floors with the Reliant within about two minutes. Most of the crew being cadets didn't help, and Khan was smart enough to have studied the Enterprise in detail. It also doesn't help that Kirk was just a little too overconfident, thinking the Reliant being silent was nothing and not having shields raised.
    • This is also used to explain why a jury-rigged Enterprise in the following movie The Search for Spock is disabled by one hit from a "scout class" Bird-Of-Prey. Even the Klingon commander can't understand why he hasn't been blown to bits after his initial strike, saying the Enterprise outguns him ten to one.
    • Later, the far more advanced Enterprise-D almost gets blown out of space by an even clunkier Bird-Of-Prey in Star Trek: Generations, thanks to the Duras sisters getting their hands on their shield frequency (which apparently lets them tune their weapons to be able to fire through the shield).
    • In the same film, the Enterprise-B was so new most of its equipment wouldn't be in until Tuesday, and was only being taken out for a spin for the sake of the news crews, hence its having such difficulty with what would normally be a simple rescue. Also, it turns out that Earth, the main planet of the Federation, had no other available ships, leaving the Enterprise as the only one in the sector.
  • In Hellbound: Hellraiser II, many fans were disappointed to see Series villain Pinhead and his cronies taken out by the new Cenobite, Dr. Channard. Many have written off his easy defeat due to him being weakened and disoriented by learning he was once human, a notion supported by Hellbound screenwriter Peter Atkins.
  • The Iron Man films do this several times.
    • The first has Tony's ARC reactor stolen by Obadiah Stane, forcing him to use his original, which doesn't have the output to support the Mk. III armor.
    • The sequel shows that the Mk. VI has high powered lasers that are only good for one use, which Tony uses to slice up some drones before Whiplash shows up.
    • In the third film, Mks. 1-7 are destroyed, he's unable to access Mks. 8-41, and Mk. 42 is a prototype that hasn't been fully tested yet.
  • Predators: This happens when the "Classic" Predator similar to the ones from the old films faces the lead "Berserker" Predator from this movie. The Classic Predator has been tied up for a while and has poorly maintained equipment allowing for leeway when the new predator wins the fight, but even with this, he still puts up a hell of a fight.
  • The drone on Tower 49 in Oblivion (2013). It's being repaired and doesn't have any armor plating, so despite drones being tough as nails, it gets shot down rather easily.
  • Mason Dixon in Rocky Balboa, though it's self inflicted. Forced into an exhibition match against the extremely aged Rocky, commentators note how he's extremely out of shape and not taking it seriously. Despite this he still dominates the early match... until he throws a sloppy punch and breaks his hand. This is all the opening Rocky needs to punish Mason hard, justifying how he can (almost) pull off a win.
  • In Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla began his rematch with Biollante after being infected by the Anti-Nuclear-Energy-Bacteria. Though he still puts up a valiant fight and forces her to retreat, his strength and stamina were clearly fading as the fight dragged on and his Atomic Breath was getting weaker with each use.
  • In The Force Awakens, Rey is able to hold her own and seriously injure Kylo Ren mainly because Ren was suffering from a boltcaster wound, and then got stabbed in the arm by Finn. The fact that he was also in mental turmoil over killing his father also may have helped.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, the young rookie superhero Peter Parker ultimately joins Tony Stark's pro-Registration forces at the climax, and manages to hold his own in combat against several experienced adult heroes during the battle at the airport. In the direct followup, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony outright says at one point that he only let the underaged Peter join him during that battle because he knew that his old friend Steve Rogers would never seriously injure another hero, let alone a teenager. When Peter goes up against the experienced criminal Adrian Toomes—who has no such scruplesreality quickly ensues.
  • There is a case to be made for this for Thor in Avengers: Endgame. Thanos beats Thor in round 3 of their fight (the first two coming in Avengers: Infinity War). However, Thor isn't the chiseled fighter he usually was and while he obviously retains most if not all of his physical strength, he hasn't done any fighting for five years, whereas Thanos is at the peak of his abilities.

  • In the fourth Riverworld novel The Magic Labyrinth, master swordsmen Cyrano de Bergerac and Sir Richard Burton take time out of a running battle to fight a (rematch) duel. Both are itching to see who's better, but they're both weary from battle, both slightly wounded, and have both been drinking to boot, and they're on a rapidly sinking ship (they really wanted this rematch). In the end, Burton draws first blood, and offers to help Cyrano to his feet... only for Cyrano to be shot by one of Burton's companions, who had no idea the duel was a gentlemanly one. Burton later (and during the fight too) wonders what the fight would have been like had they both been at their peak condition.
  • Inheritance Cycle
    • In Brisingr, Paolini has made certain that Eragon has not had time to recuperate to his full strength since achieving his super-human power.
    • At the end of Eldest, Murtagh defeats Eragon while the latter is exhausted from battle. When this pair fought a second time Eragon was fully rested, at full power, and had thirteen elves assisting him, but still only managed to drive Murtagh off thus implying that the loser's exhaustion from the first battle was a non-factor.
  • In Men at Arms Lance-Constable Cuddy brags in one scene about his axe-throwing prowess; he's so good that he won the last contest he was in by a landslide, aiming at a target behind him, while he was sick with a bilious attack. Right now he's healthy as a horse. So don't mess with him.
    • In Going Postal Reacher Gilt hires Mr Gryle, a male banshee hitman, to kill Moist. Mr Gryle's supernatural fighting skill and awesome killing physique are talked up hugely, so why are Moist and Stanley able to beat him? Simple. Mr Gryle made the mistake of snacking on an Ankh-Morpork pidgeon before the fight, which gave him food poisoning.
  • Happens twice in Warrior Cats:
    • In The Darkest Hour, Tigerstar sends Blackfoot to kill Stonefur, who he has in captivity. Blackfoot defeats Stonefur, but only because Tigerstar had been starving him for several days, and because Stonefur was tired from fighting Darkstripe just minutes earlier.
    • In The Lost Warrior, Graystripe is defeated easily by a kittypet named Duke. However, Duke defeated Graystripe so easily because he had been captured by humans and stuck inside a house for two months, leaving him out of practice.
  • In the Nightside series, the major players aren't instantly overwhelmed during the Angel War because the angels are weakened by the very nature of the place. The first time John and his allies successfully beat down the Harrowing, it's because his Enemies' homunculi are weakened from having to break through the wards that protect Strangefellows, some of which were laid upon the bar by Merlin himself.
  • Kindling Ashes: Corran losses his second bout in a tournament because his father demanded that he use his non-dominant hand. His reasoning was a "true warrior is equally skilled with both". When he gets into a real fight with raiders later in the story, he kills several of them without injury.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: The fight between Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister. Jaime is regarded as possibly the greatest swordsman in all of Westeros and is defeated by Brienne. However, while Brienne is an extremely capable fighter in her own right, something that even Jaime notes during the fight, Jaime has also been a captive for around a year, has been malnourished, out of practice and is still in manacles when he fights her. Thanks to these, Brienne is able to triumph and even she expresses surprise at how good of a fight he still put up despite those disadvantages, believing that if he had been at full strength, there would not have been a single knight in the Seven Kingdoms who would have been a match for him. Of course, Brienne herself had two arrows in her back at the time...
  • Alastor Moody seems to suffer this a lot in Harry Potter. Though he's described as the toughest and most successful auror (dark wizard hunter) of all time, he seems to get defeated a lot. It should be noted that we only ever see him fight after years of retirement and after being imprisoned and malnourished for a year.
    • Neville Longbottom is eventually revealed to have been using his father's wand for the first five years of his Hogwarts education. While he does come into his own during book five, it's noted as being the result of a lot of hard work and in the previous four books, Neville was generally bottom of the class.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Episode six of Dollhouse features this canonically on both sides: when Ballard and Echo fight, on the surface it seems like it might be an even match that could go either way. Echo with her programming is probably the better technical fighter, but Ballard is very big, built like a brick house, and so tough he can take out four gun-wielding thugs with a plank after he's been shot—plus, he's a trained fighter, so all of his experience is real. However, he had been shot mere days ago, and was not looking to actually hurt Echo, as she's his best link to the case. Cue him fighting defensively and eventually getting worn down. On the flip side, Echo was also fighting in order to frame Ballard for shooting a cop, not to actually win, so while she wasn't fighting to win either, her goals were served by simply getting him to the right place at the right time and disappearing.
  • Spike's attempted rape of Buffy in "Seeing Red" only got as far as it did because a run-of-the-mill vampire had got a lucky shot in earlier (as she was staking him, no less). Both injuries carry over into Buffy's fight with a superpowered Warren - even with super-strength and near-invulnerability, he can tell she's off her game.
  • Angel:
    • Angel has a long history of losing fights with Slayers. Then, in the episode "Release", he managed a narrow victory over Faith (after a wonderfully brutal fight). Not only was Faith still recovering from a severe beating the previous day at the hands of an indestructible demon, the very next episode it was revealed that at the start of her fight with Angel she had pumped herself full of magic heroin.
    • Hamilton stomping over Illyria happened only after she had been massively depowered, and it's probably telling that Hamilton didn't go anywhere near her until this had happened, and in fact when Wesley was studying her gave him a hint that led him to discover how to drain her powers. He even goes into an exaggerated Smug Snake routine to Illyria's face as he ponders why she can't beat him to a pulp.
  • In Dai Sentai Goggle Five, only going as far as episode 8, Goggle Blue gets A Day in the Limelight episode...where he got horribly owned solo by the Monster of the Week because they managed to wound his leg while protecting a woman. Skip ahead several episodes later and then, he's shown to be as good as he gets when he's on a solo fight. Especially when kids are involved.
  • An inversion takes place in Mahou Sentai Magiranger, where the Heavenly Saint Lunagel is defeated in battle by Wolzard partly because she went on her own, but mostly because he'd spent the past four episodes doing nothing but powering up.
    • In Samurai Sentai Shinkenger/Power Rangers Samurai, the Big Bad is, in his first fight with the Rangers, utterly invincible, no attempt to harm him making a single scratch, and comes within an inch of wiping out the heroes in two minutes flat. How, in the final battle, are the Rangers able to win? Well, he's able to beat the sealing spell that kept him canned for most of the season by absorbing one of his formerly-human generals, gaining a human side and thus immunity from a spell that wasn't made to be used on humans. However, being part human weakens him just enough that beating him goes from completely impossible to merely incredibly difficult.
  • In Game of Thrones, two of Brienne's big victories over renowned fighters have those fighters under severe handicap. Jaime is supposed to be one of the best warriors in the realm but has his hands and ankles tied together, is weak from almost a year of imprisonment with inadequate food and exercise, making him completely out of practice and had no armour. The fight in the books is much closer; Jaime holds his own and even gains the upper hand (despite the presence of his manacles) until he realizes that in his weakened state, Brienne is stronger than him (this is notable, because his great physical strength has been mentioned before). The fight goes on until he slips on wet stones, allowing Brienne to get a victory... just before the Bloody Mummers show up. Sandor Clegane, who is one of the strongest and most fearsome fighters in the realm, able to hold his own against his brother Gregor and defeat Beric Dondarrion, gets bitten on the neck near the end of Season 4 and the wound gets severely infected and he has a fever because he wouldn't let Arya cauterize the wound. Arya even points out that Sandor got a lot slower because of it. Loras Tyrell, on the other hand, loses to her fair and square. Although he still sort of counts just not being that good of a fighter compared to his book version; his only on-screen victory is a joust where he cheats.
  • Part of the reason M.A.N.T.I.S. ended the way it did is to due damage his exosuit took during a crash and later, further damage and injuries he sustained in an earlier confrontation with the very invisible dinosaur that ends up killing him.
  • Savitar, the so-called "god of speed" from The Flash (2014), is case of becoming beatable by getting uncanned, similar to, of all things, the Power Rangers Samurai example. In his early appearances, he outclasses everyone he fights by an insane degree, can only be seen by certain people, and earns his status as The Dreaded. He claims to be a supernatural force and nearly has the heroes convinced. However, it turns out that he is actually trapped in the Speed Force, and is only able to temporarily appear under certain circumstances. This gives him the appearance of this Outside-Context Problem that can be anywhere and everywhere and can only be seen by speedsters and at certain times; he's not Just That Fast, he's exiting the speed force prison in different places, and he drags opponents through it to disorient them. But he's able to travel through and manipulate a primal force of space-time and can only to appear to others connected to that force because he's actively grappling with it for every second of freedom. Once free, all that's gone and he's just another speedy bad guy - and the Flash has beaten three of those already. Portrayed now with practical effects instead of CGI, he even looks and feels more real and thus more hittable to the audience. It's telling that the scene in which he properly escapes is also the first time Barry is able to injure him. He proves to be a very tough opponent, but the "god of speed" isn't looking so godlike with both feet in this world.
    • Elsewhere in the Arrowverse, there's Tabitha, Neron's Dragon and lover from Legends of Tomorrow. Season finale spoilers here: We've got another case of "the curse had benefits" like the speed force prison. As a fairy godmother, Tabitha can do pretty much anything on behalf of the person she's fairy godmother to. Of course, that last part means she has the need to convince her charge to ask for things in line with her plans, and without a charge, she's powerless. However, she was totally untouchable when her charge gave her commands she could work with. Once she tricks another character into taking on her fairy godmother status and is free to use magic at will, that magic is not the same as the near-omnipotent power she had when granting a charge's wish. A powerful magic user who grows stronger by the minute (she's powered by fear and Neron's machinations are giving her a really good supply of it) is like the unbound Savitar: a terrifying opponent, yes, but beatable.
    • The Legends actually tried to invoke that with the previous season's Big Bad, Mallus. A demon is limited to what he can do as a Sealed Evil in a Can, but you also can't punch it. The obvious solution... once you have what's needed to vanquish him, free him so you can face him in person and use it on him! Of course, since it resulted in the death of Rip Hunter and a reformed Damien as well as the freeing of every other prisoner who'd been canned with Mallus, including the aforementioned Neron and Tabitha, they probably don't consider that a success even if they were able to destroy Mallus in the end.
  • Arguably true for Worf himself in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He loses a one-on-one battle with the Jem'Hadar, but this was towards the end of a brutal gauntlet of fights where he was given minimal time to rest or recover. And even then, he refuses to yield, earning the respect of his final Jem'Hadar opponent who then refused to kill him.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • After he became NWA World Heavyweight Champion the first time, Lou Thesz had very few losses where that or any other title was on the line, he wasn't going into the match injured, and a rules lawyer was not in effect(Dick Hutton, Rikidozan, Gene Kiniski, El Canek, Dara Singh, about one memorable case for each decade!) and in one of the cases where he was injured the "loss" was technically a draw(Eduado Carpentier).
  • Buddy Rogers' explanation – at least on television – for why he was crushed in his WWWF-title loss to Bruno Sammartino, in less than 48 seconds. Indeed, he supposedly had a legitimate heart attack not long before the match, but because few people – other than Sammartino – who were associated with the match are still alive (much less in good health; Rogers himself died in 1992) and because Kayfabe was strictly maintained, theres' no way to know whether Rogers agreed to drop the title to allow his health to recover or if he was faking for some reason.
  • Just prior to the 1992 Royal Rumble, Intercontinental champion Bret Hart literally had the flu (or at least was booked as having one; nobody's really sure), one ranging near the 104 degree range. He lost the belt the night before the event to The Mountie, who then set the record for the shortest IC title reign without immediately losing it when he lost it to Roddy Piper one day later at the Rumble itself.
  • Masakatsu Funaki was well known to be a great fighter, but he had a knee injury prior to his fight with Rickison Grace, which his younger opponent was not afraid to exploit.
  • After coming to WWE, The Big Show was rather horribly misused, ending up as a lower midcarder holding the Hardcore Title. About this time, Brock Lesnar had pretty much obliterated his way to the World Title. Deciding to make Show the next challenger for the belt, WWE bookers just cooked something or other up about "don't wake the sleeping giant", basically saying that the reason Show had been so low on the cards was that he hadn't been trying very hard to do otherwise.
  • Macaela Mercedes had a less than decisive victory over Phoenix for the Glory Championship trophy in The Apocalypse Wrestling Federation, as she hadn't gotten over the flu (she avoided being pinned, did not submit and was awarded the trophy by decision after the match became a stalemate). This later lead a healthy Macaela Mercedes to become unusually aggressive in an effort to prove she deserved it.
  • CM Punk stresses that you wXw fans shouldn't believe everything you read! He only lost to Chris Hero once and that was only because Punk had a 114 degree fevernote  and the gout!
  • Her feud with Nikki Roxx and Rain in WSU and participation in New Horizon Pro Wrestling's Hardcore revival left Mercedes Martinez worse for wear. Before these events she had managed to fight off both Jessicka Havok and Hailey Hatred in National Wrestling Superstars. After these took place she could barely fight Hailey Hatred one on one at an American Championship Entertainment show.
  • Steve Corino doesn't like to make excuses, but he only lost to Bruce Santee because he had just gotten off a flight and he didn't get to sleep because his hotel didn't check him in until 4 o'clock, reducing his wrestling ability to 90%. Also, he was scared of Kevin Sullivan, bringing it down to 85.
  • Trish Stratus of all people had an instance of this (she was normally booked as an underdog). WWE had just lost their planned top face Lita to a broken neck but weren't ready to put Trish over as champion again. So in a match against Jazz, they had Molly Holly come out before Jazz, attack Trish and whip her into the ring steps. As a result her submission loss to Jazz made her look less weak.
  • Beth Phoenix suffered a real life torn ACL and thus had to drop her Women's Championship. How to get the title off her without making the Glamazon look weak? Put her in a handicap match against LayCool, and have Layla pin her only after her injury gets aggravated.
  • Again when Beth Phoenix was challenging Kelly Kelly for the Divas' Championship. Kelly's first successful defence over her was a sneaky roll-up that was framed as Beth underestimating Kelly being a Combat Pragmatist. The second was given a Hand Wave by saying that Beth may have felt under pressure due to wrestling in her home town.

  • Used as an excuse so many times, especially when it's a massive upset or a loss that is much more lopsided than anticipated. It may or may not involve home court/field/ice advantage and it frequently involves injury and/or fatigue.
  • When your [[insert favorite team in [[insert sport here]] here]] loses a game.
  • The New Zealand All Blacks were favourites going into 1995 Rugby World Cup. South Africa was the host nation, but they hadn't even participated in the previous two world cups due to The Apartheid Era. However, a few days before the two sides were due to meet at the final, All Blacks came down with a case of food poisoning. They decided against re-scheduling the final to keep it secret from the Springboks even though it got to a point where at least one player threw up on the sidelines, and they narrowly lost by a drop goal from the South Africans in extra time. There is a conspiracy theory involving a mysterious "Suzie" concerning this food poisoning, although most fans now believe the illness was unintentional.
  • A legend has Auburn University cadets greasing the rails before an opposing football team from Georgia Tech arrived, causing their train to slide past the station, and forcing the team to tire itself out walking back to the stadium.
  • Averted in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, to this day thought of as "The Flu Game". According to The Other Wiki, Michael Jordan woke up the day before the game nauseated and sweating profusely. He was diagnosed with food poisoning. He barely had the strength to get up out of bed, and the Bulls trainers told him there was no way he could play in Game 5. The Bulls would be at a distinct disadvantage without their leader, because the Jazz had just won two straight games to even the series, and whoever won Game 5 would be one win away from the championship. But he rose out of bed three hours before tip-off, determined to play. And after a listless first quarter in which the Jazz ran off to a 16-point lead, Michael led the team back to a 90-88 victory, finishing with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. And then his teammate Scottie Pippen helped carry him off the court.
  • Early in Super Bowl XXXIX, Terrel Owens caught a pass from Donovan McNabb and had an open-field run to the endzone. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Owens was still recovering from a leg injury, allowing a defender to tackle him after a big play that would have probably been a touchdown had he been healthy. The Eagles proceeded to turn the ball over a few plays later and would eventually lose to the Patriots by 3 points.
  • Nearly every losing sports team ever. It can't always be the referees' fault.
    • In college football, a famous recent example would Colt McCoy at his last Rose Bowl Game. The momentum of the entire game reversed suddenly - all because McCoy got tackled by a nearly 400-pound man early in the game, taking him out of the game. It wasn't even an especially brutal hit, but the physics somehow left his arm with no sensation whatsoever. He didn't feel any pain and his arm hadn't suffered serious injury, but he couldn't feel the football contacting his palm and fingers and thus couldn't make accurate throws. Truly a bizarre moment in sports as a QB had never before been knocked out of an entire Super Bowl or BCS Title game before, much less on such an unusual injury.
    • Two NBA examples: The Spurs in 2000 and the Celtics in 2009 were defending champions but late in the year lost their best player (Tim Duncan for the Spurs, Kevin Garnett for the Celtics) for the entire playoffs and suffered an early playoff exit to an otherwise inferior team.
      • There is an argument to be made about the Pistons beating the 1989 "Showtime" Lakers team because of this, as well as the 2019 Toronto Raptors beating a Golden State team missing two of their three best players. That same Raptors team probably wouldn't even have made the finals if the Philadelphia 76ers' star center Joel Embiid hadn't been suffering from a virus throughout the series.
    • Oddly enough, at least in the US, defeats are always blamed on this while victories are credited to divine intervention. The reverse is almost never the case.
  • Mike Tyson's defeat against Buster Douglas is in no small part the result of him expecting another half-round knock out and thus coming in unprepared. To be fair to Tyson, Douglas was much older and nearing his retirement, to the point Douglas himself initially expected to lose and prepared to retire after that fight, only for Douglas' mother to die shortly before the fight, driving him to fight with much more skill and determination he had ever done, resulting in a long drawn fight that still nearly saw Tyson winning before his eventual defeat.
  • The problem of course is that so much of sports championships are based on luck and injuries are prevalent enough in pro leagues these days that nearly every modern championship loss could be blamed to some degree on this.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Sanguinius of Warhammer 40,000 was often regarded as the most technically brilliant fighter among the Primarchs. But even he was not immune to fatigue. His sheer exhaustion from the Siege Of Terra (In addition to fighting Angron to a draw) led to his defeat at the hands of Horus. At full strength, it's highly likely Horus would have been slain then and there.
    • The Emperor himself, in the same battle, actually. It's shown that he can (and ultimately did) defeat Horus with a single strike. However, The Emperor felt like Horus could be redeemed, and held back from attacking at all until almost dying from the many mortal wounds Horus had inflicted on him.
  • In Warhammer, the main reason Alcadizaar was able to defeat Nagash is because the great necromancer was still recovering from the heavy fatigue that had come from just cast one of the most epic spells of all time.

    Video Games 
  • In Blazblue, this is pretty much the major reason for most of Ragna's losses. Hakumen's sword can nullify his Healing Factor, Hazama could use his Azure Grimoire to shut down Ragna's, effectively crippling him, and almost all his losses in Chronophantasma were a result of Celica's presence not only shutting down the Azure Grimoire, but also making him lose use of both his right arm and eye entirely.
    • A major reason for Terumi's humiliating defeat at Kokonoe's hands in Chronophantasma was due to her rewiring her brain so she felt no hatred towards him. With his power source cut off, the fight could only go downhill for him.
  • In Chrono Trigger there is a sequence where your party has all of their money and equipment taken from them. Unless you have Ayla in your party, this sequence becomes a stealth mission. Strangely, you are unable to fight even if you have magic.
  • In [PROTOTYPE], halfway through the game Alex is given a "cure" that zaps him of all of his powers besides his strength, speed, and shapeshifting. He gets better.
  • In Super Robot Wars Original Generation Gaiden, many people seems to come to term that Lamia Loveless was hit with this trope that she accidentally got hit by so many Distress Balls. She only got caught by the Bartolls on the first place because she was not in her mecha (the same goes to Kusuha, Arado, Seolla and Latooni), and later on, Juergen managed to 'kill' her because for the same reason, added by the fact that she was just recently and forcefully been plugged out from her cockpit that binds her. She doesn't really have much impact after being rescued, but should you bring her to battle against the Bartolls in Chapter 34, she will express disgust on the Bartolls and show them that in the right conditions, they are no match for her. Unfortunately, however, she could never do it on Juergen (nor that she has any special lines against him when they face off in Free Battle).
  • In Golden Sun, when the party faces Saturos on the roof of the Mercury Lighthouse, they are able to defeat him. However, it's revealed that because he's a Fire Adept, he's weakened by being on the Water-aligned lighthouse roof (strangely enough, although Water Adept Mia is able to recover her MP, Fire Adept Garet suffers no disadvantages). Saturos is stronger (and backed up by Menardi) when fought on the complementary Earth-aligned Venus Lighthouse.
    • Something similar happens to their successors in The Lost Age. When you fight Agatio and Karst at Jupiter Lighthouse, they're tired and worn down from their fight with Isaac's party, while Felix and co. are at full strength as they were healed by Alex shortly before the battle began. Karst even acknowledges this at one point, but later attempts to double-cross you and invoke You Have Outlived Your Usefulness anyway.
  • Ace Combat:
    • The first Yellow Squadron member shot down in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, Yellow Four, is revealed to have sortied with poorly-maintained engines. The rest of the squad retreats immediately because they're not in any better shape after their runway was bombed by a local resistance group.
    • In Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, Gelb 2 mentions that his squad would often be sent from one mission to another without even any basic maintenance on their planes. This plus the fact that Gelb is one of only two story-ace squadrons in the game that doesn't outnumber you by at least two-to-one results is a slightly easier Ace fight than normal, despite them flying an end-game plane a while before the player has anything that should be comparable.
  • Given the power levels of many Touhou characters this trope is used by many fans to explain the defeat of certain characters, since everyone in Gensokyo is battling under the Spellcard system, and if they weren't Holding Back the Phlebotinum, the fighting between magicians, time-stopper, ancient vampires, embodiments of death and afterlife, immortals, wielder of NUCLEAR POWER, and assortments of gods would have wiped Gensokyo off the map.
  • In Warriors Orochi, this is how the Orochi beats the Tokugawa. They arrive and launched their attack on Edo castle just in time when Honda Tadakatsu is away scouting the area. Considering Tadakatsu is often considered Samurai Warriors' Lu Bu, the battle might have a different outcome if he is ever present.
    • In Warriors Orochi 3, several warriors end up dying in the normal timeline due to being weakened in a previous fight. Thanks to Kaguya's time traveling abilities, the heroes can go back in time and provide needed help for said warrior so that they end up surviving in an alternate timeline and join the heroes.
  • In Street Fighter, Birdie uses this as the actual explanation for his original loss against Ryu when they meet again in Street Fighter Alpha; it also explains why he was white in the first game, and why he's overweight in the fifth.
  • In Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe the effect that causes the two universes to merge also evens out the power levels of the characters. Or else Liu Kang fighting Superman hand-to-hand would just be silly.
  • Used pretty often in World of Warcraft to justify "a small group of unnamed adventurers killed one of the most powerful beings on the planet with no help whatsoever from the Big Goods."
    • From Classic we have Ragnaros the Firelord, who was newly summoned from his elemental plane and C'Thun, an Old God who was at a fraction of his true power due to being sealed away by the Titans. Ragnaros was averted in Cataclysm, three expansions later, when players defeated him at his full power.
    • Burning Crusade gives us Kil'jaeden, the de facto leader of the Burning Legion, who was in the middle of a summoning and at about half his power - and players still needed help from a Big Good or two to beat him (and all that really means is just pushing him back through a portal).
    • In Wrath of the Lich King, another Old God named Yogg-Saron is in the same situation as C'Thun.
    • During the Duel to the Death between Cairne Bloodhoof and Garrosh Hellscream in the World of Warcraft novel The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, Cairne gets some good hits in on Garrosh, but after taking a hit from his opponents weapon, which unbeknownst to either of them, was poisoned, slows down long enough to take a fatal hit to the neck.
    • Thrall's fights with Garrosh tend to be this. The first time, Thrall held back to avoid humiliating Garrosh. The second time, Garrosh's dark shaman had twisted the elements around Orgimmar so Thrall couldn't use most of his powers. Finally the third time they fight, Thrall tries to match Garrosh in pure melee combat. Once Thrall calls upon the elements, he easily overpowers and kills Garrosh.
  • God of War:
    • Zeus pulls this on Kratos in God of War II by tricking him into using a magic sword to defeat a giant statue at the start of the game. However Kratos had to deplete all his energy in doing so making him easy pickings for Zeus to kill him. As the end of the game shows though, Kratos at full power is more than a match for Zeus. The statue's outstretched hand slamming into Kratos while his back was turned didn't do him any favors either.
    • God of War (PS4): In contrast to the previous games, Kratos, the warrior who once flipped over Titans the literal size of mountains now visibly strains and struggles against Trolls no bigger than the Cyclopses he once casually knocked out, and most tellingly is visibly winded and exhausted after his bouts with The Stranger in spite of once not even breaking a sweat beating the life out of Hercules and Zeus himself. While it seems a case of Feeling Their Age, he's still able to push building-sized objects with his bare hands, and Word of God hints that it's more because he's just out of practice.
  • The trope is inverted in Mass Effect 3, as Kai Leng is introduced in the midst of his attempts to assassinate the Citadel Council. If earlier gameplay requirements have been met, Shepard is able to thwart him with the help of Thane Krios, who was also an assassin but is now in the terminal stages of a fatal disease. As Thane puts it, "he let a terminally ill drell stop him from completing his mark." Thane does end up fatally wounded, but it is stated that his advanced illness is the reason why treatments for his injury are ineffective.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, Hector, who in the prequel was established as being a major badass, is quickly and effortlessly wasted by Zephiel. However, he is 20 years past his prime and cannot fight as effectively as he once could.
    • In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Greil's death at the Black Knight's hand is revealed to have been because of a number of factors. His weapon really was not a proper weapon to fight him, and Greil crippled his good arm because of a insanity-induced rampage he went on. When the Black Knight learns of this he realizes his victory was hollow.
    • In the original Japanese version of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the Black Knight claims to Ike that he beat him at the end of Path of Radiance because some malfunctioning warp powder sent a shade of himself to fight him. The English translation changes this to a case of I Let You Win, as the Black Knight wanted to give Ike more time to surpass Greil's power and reach his full potential.
  • In Borderlands 2, despite being built up as The Dreaded (as well as a playable character in a spinoff), Wilhelm goes down very easily when you finally fight him, because Handsome Jack poisoned him before the battle as part of a Batman Gambit requiring the Vault Hunters to defeat him.
  • Johnny Klebitz, during his single scene in Grand Theft Auto V, is crippled by his meth addiction, reducing him to a withered shell of the One-Man Army he once was. It gets him stomped to death by Trevor (who, in contrast, is a Functional Addict).
  • In Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Silas Greaves admits the only way he was able to survive a duel with John Wesley Hardin (one of the fastest gunfighters who ever lived) was because the latter was drunk after a wild birthday celebration and thus didn't count his shots.
  • Kingdom Hearts
    • In Kingdom Hearts I, Sora's party manages to rescue Hercules from Cerberus. As the party leaves, Phil is utterly flabbergasted as to how they managed to do it. Hercules then says that he had managed to "soften up" Cerberus a bit before Sora appeared. Later in the game, you can fight Cerberus at his full power.
    • In Kingdom Hearts II, Hercules has been fighting Hades' minions non-stop for days or weeks and suffering from a Heroic BSoD that saps at his confidence and willpower. When he fights Auron, he's so worn down physically and mentally that Auron is able to overpower him and would have killed him if Sora and friends hadn't saved him.
  • In one of Team Fortress 2's Meet the Team videos, a Scout kills a Heavy with his baseball bat. He then can be seen munching on the Heavy's Satiating Sandwich. Do note, however, that the Heavy in question was trying to eat his Sandvich before the Scout interrupted him - and the whole point of eating a Sandvich is to regain health.
  • Played with in Punch-Out!! for Wii with Von-Kaiser. Prior to his first match he's KO'd by what appears to be a kindergarten student and mocked by all the kid's friends, making him suffer from a nasty inadequacy complex when facing you for the first time, resulting in weakened attacks and a tendency to cower with fear and beg for his mother. Unlike the other characters who Take a Level in Badass, change tactics, or cheat to up their game for the Title Defense match, Von Kaiser merely gets so angry that you have the championship belt that he gets over his complex and shows up at full strength to challenge you. It's played with because, while he's about as difficult as the Major Circuit opponents from before, the "full strength" Von Kaiser is still laughably easy to beat.
  • Omnipresent in Dark Souls where your character shouldn't even beat half the bosses and monsters if they weren't hollow, insane or weakened by other means (Seath the Scaleless takes the cake with being an insane blind dragon with a terminal disease). Most of the boss fights could be considered Mercy Kill.
    • The ancient race of Archdragons in particular rely on this trope to varying degrees to even give you a chance against them, and even then they're usually among the series' most brutal Bonus Bosses. It took an alliance of all the ancient gods who found the Great Souls in the First Flame, as well as the aforementioned Seath's betrayal of his kin, to end their reign over the world.
      • In Dark Souls 1 Seath the Scaleless is, as mentioned, mad, corrupted, and was the only one of his species to not possess the stone scales that made their race immortal in the first place (leading him to betray them out of jealousy). Bonus Boss Black Dragon Kalameet is (almost) completely impossible to even fight until you get Hawkeye Gough to snipe him out of the sky, nailing one of his wings to his side and causing him to crash, preventing him from flying for more than a few seconds at a time. The stone dragon you find in Ash Lake as the keeper of the Path of the Dragon covenant goes one further by being the only character in the entire game to be completely invincible- you can cut off its tail to use as a weapon, but it doesn't even notice and it's implied it will simply regenerate in time.
      • The Ancient Dragon in Dark Souls II is a massive Damage-Sponge Boss which has attacks that are almost all a One-Hit Kill, but you can still kill it in single combat; however it turns out to (apparently) not be a true Archdragon at all, but a facsimile created by Lord Aldia with a Giant Soul at its core. Sinh the Slumbering Dragon from the Crown of the Sunken King DLC is another incredibly dangerous opponent, but he was impaled completely through the body by a gigantic spear when Shulva fell, which is still lodged there where you fight him.
      • Darkeater Midir from Dark Souls III was an Archdragon raised by the gods themselves to fight the all-consuming Abyss, and has become corrupted by it over the centuries. While this has enhanced his power in some ways (such as giving him a laser beam breath and dark sorcerous attacks), it's also implied to be eating away at him. He still remains possibly the toughest boss in the entire series.
  • In Odin Sphere, it's explained later that the reason Oswald lost to Mercedes during the Ringford rebellion was because his power was weakening, and he lost his power entirely when trying to fight baby Levanthan.
  • Persona 5, interestingly, has a literal example of this. Bonus Boss The Reaper can actually catch the flu if fought under specific weather conditions, making what's normally a very difficult fight very easy.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, in the rare cases where a mortal directly contends with a Daedric Prince, said Prince is either weakened (such as manifesting on Mundus, the mortal plane, where metaphysical laws typically weaken their power), is Willfully Weak, or said mortal has been empowered by one of the Divines or another Prince.
  • In Final Fantasy VII and its spinoffs, Cloud's first victory over Sephiroth can be chalked up to this. Despite his overwhelming physical superiority and experience advantage, he was in the midst of a psychotic breakdown, he had already been worn down by a duel with Zack Fair, Cloud took him completely by surprise and dealt a devastating sword blow to his midsection to open the battle, and he fatally underestimated Cloud's resolve to defeat him.
  • Despite being the strongest non-Xel'naga in the universe, in StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Kerrigan gets tossed around by a hybrid with ease. Shortly afterwards, she comments that she's been fighting hybrid for days and was exhausted.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2 uses this tropes extensively to actually explain why each Recurring Boss is more powerful each time they're fought instead of just leaving it as a gameplay contrivance:
    • Zeke was toying with the party and intentionally holding back to various degrees.
    • Brighid and Morag are never fought with both parties fighting at full strength. In the first fight, Brighid is separated from her Driver; in the second, Morag is attempting to non-lethally arrest Rex; in the third, Rex's party are holding back as they just try to talk through a misunderstanding.
    • Malos was crippled in the backstory, he get his power back during the plot, and pilots Aion as the Final Boss.
    • Akhos, Patroka, and Mikhail all use Blades like the party and use more powerful ones later more specifically, their own weapons as Flesh Eaters. They're also fought alone or in pairs to start; their toughest battle comes when they team up and mirror the player party's Damager, Healer, Tank dynamic.
    • Most notably, any fight with Jin on his terms in nothing but a Curb-Stomp Battle in his favor. The only times the party win come from outside influence, in order: Fan la Norne suppressing his powers, Pneuma awakening her ability to rewrite reality to level the playing field, and being on the cusp of death by ether stagnation.
  • At the end of Devil May Cry 5, Vergil is weakened and exhausted from his Duel to the Death with Dante, and is easy pickings for Nero despite having a massive advantage over the younger Devil Hunter in experience and power.
  • Red Dead Redemption II: In this case, Arthur Morgan has tuberculosis, and he still gives Micah Bell some trouble. In his prime, Arthur would've probably flattened the guy easily.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night has a lot of examples, since the very powerful characters it likes introducing need to be challenged somehow.
    • Archer is definitely one of the strongest Servants in the story, something apparent after he reveals the true nature of his Noble Phantasm, but he often ends up handicapped one way or another across all three routes.
      • Fate route: At the start of the route Archer is surprised and grievously wounded by Saber, who he was unwilling to fight, before getting thrown against Berserker, who he legitimately couldn't beat.
      • Unlimited Blade Works route: Archer spends most of his time trying to manipulate events rather than fighting (on the two occasions he does fight, his enemy runs away after one attack). After this, he is cut off from his source of mana and then uses his true Noble Phantasm that requires a massive input of mana to maintain for a short period of time, which causes his power to fade until he's only keeping his body together through sheer willpower.
      • Heaven's Feel route: Archer is wounded by Saber as in the Fate route, then is forced to fight in poor conditions and exposed to attacks which ignore his usual defenses.
    • Explicitly called out with regards to Lancer in the Unlimited Blade Works route. In all routes, he ties with Archer and loses to Saber; in Fate and Heaven's Feel, he doesn't get many more scenes after that, but when he and Archer fight again in Unlimited Blade Works he easily defeats Archer, having explained that he'd been ordered to lose the previous two fights.
    • Rider spends all of the first two routes with a poor source of mana, which causes her to go down very easily. After Heaven's Feel fixes this problem, she demonstrates just how deadly she can be.
    • In all routes, Saber starts out being improperly summoned by someone who can barely use magic, so she has an incomplete connection to his mana and therefore has to recharge herself very often with large amounts of sleep and food, even if she uses only a little bit of her power. This is exacerbated by the fact that she took a cursed, slow-healing stab close to the heart soon after being summoned. It also doesn't help that, due to worries that Shirou's lack of mage skill would leave him open to mind magics, she doesn't let him know her true identity and holds off on using her Noble Phantasm even more than any other Servant. And of course, her Master being unwilling to risk her life if he can avoid it and being unwilling to fight as ruthlessly as possible is a pretty hefty handicap for a Servant of the Grail War as well, even though she herself isn't really all that much more ruthless than he is (especially compared to all the non Rin and Good Sakura Masters). The other Servants aren't pushovers by any stretch of the word, but as the two times she got a competent mage as a master showed, there is a REASON she's considered the strongest class.
    • Similarly, in Fate/Zero, Saber has her left hand crippled by Lancer early on, preventing her from fighting at full strength and from using Excalibur for a while.
    • The Fate/stay night Worf character, Berserker, has this arguably crippling him in UBW and definitely doing so in HF. In UBW, he's hampered in his fight against Gilgamesh because he's shielding Ilya as well (which is given a Shout-Out in one of his Fate/Unlimited Codes missions, where he has to fight his opponent while keeping the defenseless Ilya alive). In HF, he gets hit by a gamebreaker ability he can't actually fight against and is turned into Dark Berserker before he can truly fight. While in Dark Berserker form, the fact that he is killed nine times by the same attack comes from the fact that he's pretty much gone blind from the corruption. And while the Berserker class amps his already legendary strength and speed, it leaves him unable to use any of his skills or non-auto Noble Phantasms, instead fighting almost purely on instinct, reflex and power - formidable, but not as deadly as he would be in a standard class.
    • And the other Archer Gilgamesh, is the most powerful character by far, and could stomp just about anyone, thanks to being the first and oldest hero in a 'verse where Older Is Better. Unfortunately, his ego is so unfathomably massive that he refuses to fight seriously, or even bother to fight much at all, he just stands around while using his Gate Of Babylon to sword-spam things into nonexistence. He dies every route due to underestimating his enemies and getting manhandled because of it.
  • Arcuied is operating far below her normal power in Tsukihime, as she is still recovering from Shiki slicing her into pieces, and has to devote almost all her strength to suppressing her bloodlust. This is probably a good thing for the sake of the plot, though, as with access to her full abilities, she has Story-Breaker Power and would curb stomp everyone in about ten seconds flat. And in Ciel's route, where she does gain back some of her power, it's not a good thing.
  • In Zero Time Dilemma, Akane- The Chessmaster who's been manipulating everyone for the past two games- is significantly less confident and capable because 1), she walked into a trap (for very good reasons) set by her nemesis, whose powers specifically counter hers, 2) she couldn't predict this Game's potential outcomes and therefore didn't have years beforehand to plan for every eventuality, 3) she can't escape the trap without either abandoning her goal of preventing the apocalypse or getting into a situation just as dangerous, 4) her short-term memory is erased every 90 minutes, and 5) she could die at any moment, solely on the whim of a crazed seemingly Omnicidal Maniac who wants to torture her. The upshot of this is that Akane's expression when she learns that said maniac anticipated her usage of esper abilities to cheat him is hilarious.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: In the finale of The Revelation, the Reds and Blues manage to kill the Meta, a berserk Freelancer armed with numerous game-breaking weapons he had stolen from other Freelancers. Later, in Season 13, when Locus and the Counselor discuss it, the Counselor points out that a) the Reds and Blues outnumbered him badly, and b) the Meta had lost all of the A.I. that ran his equipment back in Reconstruction, including Sigma, who was the actual brains of the operation, and was making do with just one unit. The Meta had also just won a fight with Tex right beforehand, and she had landed some pretty major hits, though the Counselor probably didn't know this.
  • RWBY: When investigating the White Fang at Mountain Glenn, Ruby is easily captured after she loses her scythe falling down a sinkhole in the abandoned town. Her punches have little impact on her captors and, while she's normally willing to challenge Roman to fight when she has her weapon, without it she concentrates on trying to escape him. She has to be found by her team and reunited with her weapon before she can successfully fight back. In flashbacks, Yang has unsuccessfully tried to get her to address her inability to fight without her weapon but she doesn't make a serious attempt to correct this weakness until Professor Ozpin confronts her about it in Volume 5.

  • Girl Genius had Gilgamesh beat Vole, a big Jägermonster. But then, Gil was ranting "in the place of madness" and Vole didn't really want to injure the heir of his boss. So, later they had a rematch without such limitations.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Knight Templar Miko singlehandedly defeats the Order of the Stick to drag them in chains to Azure City. Later, after Miko kills Lord Shojo, Roy knocks her flat fairly easily, and mentions that this time, besides Miko having Fallen, Roy was using his Ancestral Weapon (which had been upgraded immensely) and not a stupid club. Also, Word of God says that the reason her clothing turned grey was because many of her magic items only worked on Paladins in good standing, which she was not at the time.
    • Durkon rationalizes that the rain that prohibited the team from working effectively the first time they battled Miko was a divine sign that they weren't going to win this one. However, she did beat them a second time without the rain slowing the party down (although this fight was off-panel, and Durkon didn't appear to participate in it either). Roy's comment, "Stupid railroad plot," lampshades this nicely.
  • In one Sluggy Freelance strip Zoe kicked resident Killer Rabbit Bun-Bun through a wall. When Zoe brings this up years later to try and intimidate Bun-Bun, he responds, "That was then, and you were half naked. Let's rock."
  • In Sailor Moon Cosmos Arc the reason the senshi struggled so much against Servant Chaos was because their powers had stagnated due to not using them in three millenia. And, technically speaking, they never even fought in this incarnation, so they weren't even sure they could transform at first. Granted, given that Servant Chaos was also possessing Hotaru and brainwashed Chibiusa and Endymion, it's unlikely they'd have given it their all anyway, even if they were at full power.

    Web Original 
  • A version of this occurs in "Have Yourself a Monkey Little Christmas" in the Whateley Universe. Chaka is put in significant danger during a fight because she'd just had her hips broken and reset! This is also a Chekhov's Gun, as the need was stated around her first appearance! She does in fact win the fight, thanks to Chou's healing abilities.
    • Yet again, Fey's infamous fight against Mule is revealed to include a good bit of Flu. Fey fought her in an arena where she couldn't draw upon her powers. In fact, she was put in there specifically because the administration heard her say "But I can't do a fight in there! The Ley Lines are so tangled that I'll hardly be able to do anything!" Furthermore, her foe can absorb her magical abilities. What follows is a rather fun run-and-gun.
  • In the second-to-last episode of Red vs. Blue: Revelation, it's revealed that Tex is destined to always fail at the last moment, because she's based on the memory of the Director's lost love who died in combat, and the trauma of her death is an integral part of how the Director remembers her. This explains how, throughout the series, Tex always managed to get captured, killed, or knocked-out at a critical moment despite being the strongest character in the series.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Word of God has this as something that came into play during the formation of the Book One finale: giving Zuko injuries from both his ship exploding, and hypothermia from his near drowning experience in icy water, plus powering up Katara with a full moon that increases the power of her water-bending. Consequently, Katara managed to win her fight with him despite his much greater experience, and incapacitated him. However, when the sun rose, Zuko one-hit-KO'd Katara. During the third round, it was night again, they were in a freakin' snow storm (plenty of water to bend) and Zuko was half-frozen to death. The next time Zuko and Katara had a real fight he more than held his own against her.
    • Zuko is similarly handicapped by being unable to use any of his Firebending in his fight-to-a-draw against Jet in Book Two. Doing so would have exposed his identity, which, after an earlier incident in the season where he'd shown his firebending in a fight to defend a town and was then immediately thrown out of said town, caused him to hold back with Jet. Towards the end of the fight he gains a clear advantage once he grabs some real swords, but the guards intervene at that point.
    • This applies in the Grand Finale, in the final duel between Zuko and Azula. Compared to their past battles, Zuko has gained insights into Firebending long lost to his people and was more emotionally centered than he had previously been in his life, whereas Azula is in the middle of a Villainous Breakdown. Just before going into battle against her he mentions that he doesn't need Katara's help anymore because Azula is slipping and thus he can reliably defeat her on his own. He loses, but Azula is only able to win by firing a lightning bolt at Katara, causing him to take the blow for her.
    • Team Avatar tries to use this trope to their advantage, by attacking the Fire Nation during an eclipse, (which temporarily prevents firebenders using their powers,) with the intention of beating Fire Lord Ozai while he's powerless. Their plan doesn't work, because the Fire Nation had forewarning about it and prepared accordingly, and Azula manages to be a formidable opponent even without her firebending. However, it plays a big part in Zuko's Calling the Old Man Out as he wouldn't stand a chance against Ozai in a firebending battle but is more than a match for him with his swords.
  • This applies to the main character of The Legend of Korra.
    • In the first episode, she loses to the Metalbending Police (but since they were police, she held back and wasn't really trying). Later, she loses to some Equalist chi blockers. Korra had no idea they were chi blockers until after they defeated her, though, whereas they had trained to fight benders. Korra struggles inside the pro bending ring, but between being restricted to only waterbending and having limitations on how much she can bend at a time (it's complicated), that's to be expected, and she does still win quite often. In her first fight with Amon, Korra was badly outnumbered, and he got the drop on her anyway. When Tarlok defeats her, he uses a Story-Breaker Power that, as far as Korra knows, is impossible for anyone to even have, and which nobody but Amon can counter at this point. When Amon takes her bending, he uses that same power. Luckily, Korra still manages to win quite a few fights when she isn't at a huge disadvantage.
    • Shows up again in Season 3, this time dealing with Lin Beifong; after a physically and emotionally draining acupuncture session, she picks a fight with her half-sister Suyin and barely manages to hold on.
    • The good guys are down three people/ two bending masters (Bumi, Kya, and Tenzin) in the climax of season 3 as they got the crap kicked out of them and are still too hurt to fight.
    • In season 4, Korra is once again hit with this. Turns out the reason she's weaker than before is because she still has a bit of metallic poison in her body. It's been there for years. After she works up the mental fortitude to bend it out herself, she is able to enter the Avatar state again, only to have that derailed by lingering mental trauma. By the time she's back to 100%, the villain has powered up to the tune of a taller-than-buildings Humongous Mecha. That said, when the two fight man-to-man again, it's clear that Korra is the more powerful of the two.
  • Ben of Ben 10 is in possession of the Omnitrix, one of the greatest and most powerful inventions in the entire universe, and almost every important Big Bad is after it in one way or another. The biggest Running Gag in the franchise is that the Omnitrix can't just transform Ben into the right alien to solve problems with ease, due to a combination of inexperience with the current model of the watch note  and just plain Rule of Funny, leaving Ben to take care of things with a different alien or, in cases where the watch hasn't recharged yet, as a regular human.
  • There are fan theories that state that the reason Superman was so weak in the first season of Justice League is because he was still recovering from the war with Apokolips. Of course, the same series is the Trope Namer for "World of Cardboard" Speech.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness sees Temutai try to invoke this the second time he faces off with Po, claiming that the last time they fought, he had a head cold. It's very obviously an excuse he made up on the spot.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • The second season finale when Queen Chrysalis manages to defeat Princess Celestia in a straight up fight. Chrysalis had gotten a major power up feeding off of Shining Armor's love for Princess Cadence. Not only does she visibly struggle against Celestia's power, even Chrysalis is outright shocked she won. In addition its been noted said fight took place in a room crowded with the very citizens Celestia was trying to protect, meaning in all likelihood, she may have been holding back so as not to harm them and may have beaten Chrysalis otherwise.note 
    • In "The Crystal Empire", Shining Armor has his horn cursed by Sombra and is unable to use magic, leaving Cadance to maintain the barrier spell on her own, which she becomes exhausted from.
    • In "Equestria Games", the Anti-Magic field set up to prevent cheating also prevents the unicorns from using their magic to stop the falling ice cloud.
    • Then in the Season 6 finale "To Where and Back Again", Queen Chrysalis has managed to, in only a few hours, kidnap the entire Royal Family and Elements of Harmony and taken them to her hive to keep captive there in cocoons until her invasion of Equestria is complete. This is suspected to be thanks to the Anti-Magic field generated by her throne as since it blocks all magic but that of the Changelings, she could kidnap them with little resistance and prevent them from escaping from their cocoons on their own, along with giving her a Home Field Advantage against anyone who tried to rescue them.
    • In Season 7 episode 10, we learn that Celestia is apparently Willfully Weak, with her potential Nightmare Moon equivalent, Daybreaker, being who she is if she stopped holding back and caring about what others thought.
    • In the movie all three Princesses are petrified with the Storm King's Obsidian Orbs. Cadence blocks the first one with her shield - only to discover that the orb's gas was able to seep through before any of them could do anything about it. Celestia realises they can't defend themselves and tries to get Luna to find help instead of fighting - but both are hit with the orbs before they can. Twilight only escapes the last one when Rainbow Dash pulls her out of the way at the last second. It's also shown that the Storm Guards have Anti-Magic armor that deflects Twilight's magic.
  • In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Brittney's Party", Marco is unable to help Star fight Ludo's minions because Brittney's holding her birthday party on a moving bus, and Marco gets carsick easily.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: "Lair of Grievous": Before he duels Kit Fisto (a duel that seemed to be going Kit's way before the MagnaGuards interrupted), Grievous's medical droid warned him that he wasn't fully repaired and was "in no condition to fight.
    • In the previous Clone Wars cartoon Grievous repeatedly Invoked this: not being a Force user, he's been instructed by Dooku to always make sure he has "fear, surprise and intimidation" on his side before fighting the strongest Jedi and retreat otherwise. Thus his introduction has him face six Jedi, killing three and leaving the others wounded and traumatized, after throughly wiping out their army and taking multiple steps to scare them to throw them off their game, and every time he appears he takes care to be as intimidating as possible and try and get his Jedi opponents tired by his Magna Guards while also riding on the reputation he built by killing Jedi... But when he faces Mace Windu his opponent is not intimidated at all, and Grievous is crippled in an instant.
  • The first episode of Transformers Animated sees the main Autobots kill Megatron… after he'd been severely damaged by a bomb planted on him by Starscream. When they have a rematch after he comes back to life fifty years later, he puts up a much better fight.
  • In The Venture Bros., Dermot "claims" the only reason Dean beat him up in a Wimp Fight was because he was sick at the time. Did we mention throughout that entire episode Dermot "claimed" that his hands were registered as lethal weapons?

    Real Life 
  • Napoleon's defeats:
    • The suggestion is often made that the French lost the battle at Waterloo only because Napoleon was ill with piles (or some other complaint). There's a Voltaire short story called Lord Chesterfield's Ears that's based on this sort of idea. In the same battle, Ney's ill-conceived attacks against prepared infantry positions and infamous failure to bring the spikes necessary to disable the British cannon batteries after capturing them (thus allowing the British to retake the cannons intact and resume fire with minimal delay) has been blamed on post-traumatic stress disorder from his leadership of the rearguard during the disastrous withdrawal from Russia.
    • The Battle of Borodino, the turning point toward a Russian repulsion of Napoleon's invasion, was lost (according to some historians) because "Napoleon had a cold." Leo Tolstoy says of this that that means "the adjutant who forgot to give Napoleon his waterproof boots [two days earlier] was the savior of Russia."
  • The Norwegian Constituent Assembly storyline ended with Sweden taking over Norway during the fall of 1814. The King Elect of Norway, Christian Frederick, had to lay down his executive power, to formally end the strife, and let the Norwegian parliament (and government) settle matters with Sweden. The Convention at Moss, written August 14 1814, has a "secret addition" stating that Christian should "find an excuse" for giving up sovereignty. Hence, this trope came into effect, and Worf had the flu all the way from the middle of August until he left quietly in October. Officially, he was sick, but although suffering from fits of depression, he invoked this trope.
  • During the 2012 US presidential election, President Obama seemed extremely tired during the first presidential debate between himself and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, who many thought dominated the debate. Al Gore suggested that it was because of the altitude of Denver, the debate venue.
  • In The Prince, Machiavelli says that Cesare Borgia revealed to him that his multiple enemies managed to defeat him only because he was seriously sick when they did it.
  • The Sassanid Empire fell to the Arabs because of this trope. Before the rise of Islam, Persia was an regional power with their emperor Shapur II winning a decisive campaign against several Arab nomadic tribes in 325 A.D. However, a series of conflicts with the Eastern Roman Empire had weakened it over the decades. By the time of Muhammed, the Persians and Romans were engaged in a war that lasted nearly 30 years and no substantial gains where being made for either side. When both empires were too exhausted to continue fighting and decided to call it quits, a civil war erupted in Persia which left it completely vulnerable to the rising Caliphate.
  • Robert E. Lee had heart problems, and some historians and doctors have argued that he was suffering from the effects of a heart attack at the Battle of Gettysburg during The American Civil War. This could explain the less-than-stellar decisions he made during the battle, especially Pickett's Charge.


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